We are called by our Creator to deepen our relationship with the Wabanaki of Maine, to stand with the tribes in the pursuit of justice, to affirm their inherent sovereignty and to support the preservation of Native languages and culture.
The Episcopal Committee on Indian Relations (CIR) began in 1991, at the time of the quincentenary of the arrival of Columbus in the Caribbean, as Episcopalians in Maine desired to “get to know the Native American people of Maine; to learn about their histories, cultures, values, and yearnings, and join with them as we all share in the ministry of reaching out to all the people of Maine.”
Over the last 30 years, the committee has become a vibrant and diverse group with about 25 active members including clergy and laypeople representing most areas of the state. People of faith and conscience who are not Episcopalian are welcomed. We work closely with the Friends’ (Quaker) Committee on Maine Public Policy (FCMPP) and other faith groups considering the same issues. The committee meets monthly to pray and learn together and to take actions to “stand with the tribes in the pursuit of justice, to affirm their inherent sovereignty and to support the preservation of Native language and cultures,” as stated in our Mission Statement. Working groups within the committee are “Legislative,” “Tribal Relations,” and “Communication.”
The Doctrine of Christian Discovery and Domination comprises the worldview, based on papal decrees beginning in the 1100s, that Christians have a right derived from God to invade non-Christian lands not claimed by other Christian nations and to seize the land and possessions of the nonChristian inhabitants. The doctrine further gives Christians the right to kill or enslave native inhabitants if they do not instantly submit to the representatives of the Christian sovereigns. This doctrine still impacts the laws of the United States today. John Dieffenbacher-Krall and CIR were integral in the renunciation of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and Domination through resolutions in the Diocese of Maine in 2007 and the Episcopal Church General Convention in 2009. Since that time, the entire Anglican Communion, the World Council of Churches, and several other churches have followed suit.
The inherent sovereignty of our Wabanaki neighbors is the first consideration of CIR. In 1972, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Indian Nation compelled the Dept. of Justice to sue the Dept. of Interior on their behalf claiming they were entitled to their homelands that had been taken from them. The Maine Indian Claims Settlement of 1980 resolved the land claims of the three Tribes. But it also imposed limitations on Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot self-government not experienced by any other federally recognized tribe within the United States. The three Tribes have continually protested the injustice of the two acts since shortly after their enactment, and they have sought meaningful amendment of them through a variety of diplomatic and legal means, all of them thwarted. Currently, work is being done in the Maine Legislature to amend the settlement act to make a more just relationship between the Tribes and the State. CIR is part of a wide coalition of groups standing with Wabanaki people for passage of LD 1626, “An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act.”
Find out how you can support tribal sovereignty here: What You Can Do.
If you’d rather listen to the webinar, the audio is also available via our Faith in Maine podcast. You can find that podcast episode anywhere you listen to podcasts (Apple, Spotify, PocketCasts, Google Podcasts, Pandora, etc.) or you can access it directly here.
For the past several years, the Committee on Indian Relations has budgeted to cover the costs of campsites at Baxter State Park for the annual K-100 pilgrimage of Penobscot people from Indian Island to Katahdin in September. People travel by canoe and on foot, alone or in small groups, to this sacred place. Committee members agree that they should not be required to pay to camp on their ancestral lands during this spiritual time.
In 2019, the state of Maine enacted legislation to replace Columbus Day with a celebration of Indigenous People. In October of 2020, our diocesan Racial Justice Council of the Diocese of Maine offered a Diocesan-wide worship service in celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
This book, written by Shirley Hagar of the Friends Committee on Maine Public Policy along with other Native and non-native participants in “the gatherings,” is the most recent topic of study and group discussion for committee members. From the 14 authors who speak in the book, we gain a deeper understanding of Indigenous-settler relations, how they came to be, the distrust and misconceptions that continue to make it difficult for us to communicate, and how those relations might be reimagined even now. In collaboration with the FCMPP, we presented key members of Maine state government with copies of the book and conversations about how the perception it provides might be used to improve relations between the State and the Tribal nations living within the boundaries of what is now called Maine.
In 2005, CIR produced a documentary film “INVISIBLE,” which examines some of the history of the relations between the white and Indian communities in Maine. Through the voices of persons telling their stories, it looks at some of the underlying reasons for the racism so deeply embedded in white American culture and how that racism continues to shape Native American reality.
Mary Beth DiMarco
Rev. Jane White-Hassler
Rev. Lev Sherman
Chair, Communications Committee
Chair, Legislative Committee
Chair, Tribal Relations Committee
Diocesan Council Liaison
Ted Kanellakis and John Maddaus
Members of Racial Justice Council