Beyond the Claims

Stories from the Land & the Heart

Healing begins with truth. Truth begins with a story.

w i k h i k o n o l

Our newest truth-telling initiative goes Beyond the Claims to get at the heart of the land, its people, and their stories. By gathering personal oral histories across a full spectrum of experiences we hope to demystify the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980, humanize those who have been affected by it, amplify their voices, and preserve their stories for cultural continuity.

wikhikon, the Maliseet-Passamaquoddy word for both image and book, or picture-writing, inspires this oral history exhibit where folks can interact with stories alongside photography by Wabanaki artists Nolan Altvater and Maya Attean. 


Kulasihkulpon– We Welcome You 

What do we mean when we say stories from the Land? 

As Wabanaki peoples, we carry with us our own understandings of the Land that has been intimately shaped since time immemorial. These understandings come from recognizing that we as skicinuwok (above surface dwellers) are spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally connected to our Land, and that these relationships and knowledge flow in, out, and through our stories that are shared across generations.

These stories, in order to come into existence, need tools to take form. Wabanaki people have always created and used our own tools to create such forms in order to adapt to our environments, as well as our material and social conditions; to tell our own stories through our own ways of knowing, and for our own futures. Wikhikon, the Passamaquoddy word originally used for birchbark maps but now refers to book, image, map, or any written material, is one of these storytelling tools. 

For this exhibit, we can understand it is a visual tool (denoted by the suffix -hikon) for storytelling that, when used, offers spaces for relations and understandings to emerge from the Land and from the people who are connected to it. It is a term that challenges and resists dominant/western understandings of stories and the Land and the relationships in which they attempt to force Wabanaki people into, as seen in the Land Claims Settlement Act. It is a tool to tell the stories beyond these claims, from our hearts as Wabanaki people.


Why Beyond the Claims?

Rooted in truth telling and peacemaking, Beyond the Claims– Stories from the Land & the Heart grew from seeds planted during the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission process (TRC) from 2012–2015. 

During the testimony gathering phase of the TRC many people in tribal communities expressed the need for a truth telling process focused on the Maine Indian Land Claims – a tumultuous era in the history of tribal-state relations when the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Tribes sued the State of Maine for theft of tribal lands amounting to approximately two-thirds of the state of Maine.  A decade of intense negotiations, racism, and tribal growth ensued. While the claim is said to have been settled in 1980, much remains unsettled and the impacts are still felt in Wabanaki Tribes today.

While most stories of the Maine Indian Land Claims are centered in negotiations, legislation, adjudication, and complications, Beyond the Claims– Stories from the Land & the Heart moves the land claims discussion from our heads to our hearts. Instead of struggling to understand legalese, judging, or worrying about ramifications of changing legislation, here we use personal stories of Wabanaki people to reconnect the topic of the land claims back to the land itself.  We uplift the ancient relationship of stewarding, loving, and protecting the lands and waters of Wabanakik, the place Wabanaki people have called home for millennia.

Beyond the Claims– Stories from the Land & the Heart responds to repeated calls for a restorative peacemaking process centered on Wabanaki-State relations through a Wabanaki lens. wikhikonol is created as a tool for much needed understanding and healing between the Tribes and the State and to capture diverse voices of Wabanaki people with lived experiences in the land claims era.

Maria Girouard, Executive Director, Wabanaki REACH

Listen to the Stories
Chapter Intro
Listen to the story: