by Morgan Dyer
This past week I was lucky enough to interview Maulian Dana, Ambassador of the Penobscot Nation. The Beacon wanted to put a spotlight on awesome women and their work this month in honor of National Women’s History Month.
When I got on the phone with Maulian, I asked if she could tell me about her background. She told me that she went to the University of Maine and got a degree in Political Science in 2006. She originally planned to become a lawyer, but became pregnant with her first daughter around that time.
I asked what inspired her to pursue a political career, and what some of her greatest obstacles have been. She responded that she got a front row seat to politics as a kid with her dad having served as the Chief of the tribe from 2003-2004.
Her aunt, Donna Loring was also politically active. She invited Maulian to testify on a bill that would remove the derogatory word sq*aw from Maine place names. She said to quote, “I learned that when you bring a personal story and humanity, sometimes politics work.”
Maulian told me that some of the greatest obstacles she faced in her journey were being a young single mother while working as a Human Resources Director and running for office twice in her 20’s and losing. She also faced a lot of racism and bigotry living in Maine, and had to confront falsehoods about the tribes all of the time.
She told me a little bit about LD291, a bill that passed in 2001 that required Wabanaki history to be taught in Maine schools. This was a huge stepping stone because lack of education around Wabanaki people and history is one of the biggest barriers to progress in the state of Maine.
I then asked if, in the light of Women’s History Month, there were any women who had inspired Maulian and the work that she has done. She cited her Aunt Donna again, who served in Vietnam as a radio control operator prior to a long rich career in public service. She got that landmark bill passed that required teaching Wabanaki history in Maine schools. Maulian told me that she also recently wrote a play about Molly Spotted Elk, who was another one of her inspirations.
Recently Maulian succeeded in passing LD944, An Act To Ban Native American Mascots in All Public Schools, sponsored by Representative Benjamin Collings. I followed this movement closely as it was happening, but lacked some context, so I asked her about the history of this.
She told me that removing Indian mascots from Maine had been close to her heart. She worked on this for 20 years. Back then, there were all kinds of racist mascots and sports team names: The Indians, The Braves, The Redskins,The Warriors, to name a few. She said how they had done a whole lot of advocacy and education in that time and convinced many schools to change. Skowhegan didn’t until March of 2019. It was a long process and eventually, we got rid of all of the racist mascots before the law passed. It’s still good to have the law in place because now, none of the schools can change the mascots back and it is setting a good precedent.
Maulian talked about how she and others recognized that they had a legislative moment when Mills came into office that could be used to create change. They used that moment to pass LD944 and another bill that replaced Columbus day with Indigenous Peoples day, laying a good groundwork for what she is working on now.
She told me a bit about the 1980 Indian Settlement Act and when it was discovered that two-thirds of the State of Maine should belong to Wabanaki people because of how the treaties used to take that land never went through congress, making them invalid. So the Penobscot Nation actually sued the state of Maine. The lawsuit should have been settled, but Maine had already gained this paternal power structure.
The Penobscot Nation received some money to buy back land, but the conflict lies in how the Penobscot Nation viewed this settlement and how the state views it. The state seems to see this as a vehicle to control the tribes, whereas the Penobscot people have always maintained that they never surrendered their sovereignty over the land. Maulian is currently part of a task force working to amend this.
Last but not least, I asked her what, if anything, she would like students at SMCC to know about her and the work that she does. She replied that something she always tries to stress is that Wabanaki people still exist in Maine in vibrant communities, and that tribal sovereignty isn’t something to be afraid of. They are not taking anything away and the Penobscot Nation’s treaties with governments are not welfare or handouts. A lot of the time, people seem to think of it this way. Dana said, “we aren’t asking for permission because we have these rights already.”