CHESTERVILLE — The Gatherings: Reimagining Indigenous-Settler Relations, a book written by Shirley Hager and Mawopiyane, tells the story of Indigenous and nonnative people coming together and lessons learned. Hager lives in Chesterville.

Mawopiyane is a Passamaquoddy term chosen to represent the book’s 13 co-authors. The book is being used with LD 1626, a bill to amend the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act.

A grant written by Hager has allowed distribution of the book to legislators, Gov. Janet Mills, the attorney general, all tribal leaders and the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission.

“Tribes are very much held back and oppressed by the act,” Hager said in a June 15 interview. “It’s been 40 years and it hasn’t worked well for them in many ways. We’re hoping that this book, among other efforts, might have a positive influence in providing a model of how we can not only work together because it’s the right thing to do but because we will all benefit when there is a better relationship with the tribes.”

The Settlement Act was intended to end litigation but it has greatly increased litigation, she said.

All states except Maine go by federal Indian laws, Hager said. Tribes in Maine have lost out on over 150 federal laws passed since 1980 that would not only have been to their benefit but to the benefit of surrounding communities, she noted.


“It’s really past time for a change,” Hager stressed. Quakers, the Episcopal dioceses and many environmental groups support LD 1626, she added.

The bill, which was scheduled to be heard before the Judiciary Committee, has been carried over to the next legislative session.

“We’re hoping that this book will help support a greater understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples,” Hager said. “Really help nonnatives understand that their issues are our issues and that in working together, having a seat at the same table would be to the benefit of all of us.”

Climate change issues were one instance where input from Indigenous people could help, Hager said. The Wabanaki people know this land, they and their millennia-long knowledge have great wisdom we need right now, she noted.

“That’s true not only here but throughout the continent,” she said. “There’s everything to gain and nothing to lose. People are afraid they’re going to lose something by engaging in these issues. There’s only something to gain. We only need to look at other states and some of the creative compacts and coalitions that have been formed to see what can be created when we work together.

“We as nonnative people have to come to terms with the fact that this is their homeland, that it was taken by illegal and brutal means,” she continued. “We need to find ways to move forward in ways that are beneficial to all of us.”


“It’s not about building the great ark and shipping everyone back to Europe or wherever they came from,” gkisedtanamoogk writes in the book. “It’s about how we live together in this shared space. For me, the ideal is for people to have the same love for the land, and for being part of the land, as we have.”

Hager shared how the book came to be.

“Back in the 1980s there was an organization called the Center for Vision and Policy,” Hager said. “It wanted to create a plan, a vision for environmental, economic, social justice sustainability in the Gulf of Maine region. They wanted to include the voices of Indigenous peoples who have lived there sustainably for millennia.”

Through a series of contacts Hager became interested. A forum was held where Wabanaki people could educate nonnatives on current issues and shared history.

“We did that pretty successfully for a couple years,” she said. “After the second gathering in the mid-80s, some of the Wabanaki people came to me. I was the organizer and said, ‘You know we think this has promise but we would feel a lot more comfortable not being the ones up front. Join us in a traditional circle that we’d create according to our own traditions with a sacred fire and talking stick.’ It was at their invitation and leadership, which is a really important point.”

That was the beginning of 11 gatherings over four-day weekends between 1987 and 1993, Hager said.


“We would find someone to offer their land to camp, meet people,” she said. “We brought coolers, sleeping bags and tents. We met in a circle, sharing our stories and getting to know one another and over time began to share more of our lives. We met in homes or someone would have a project that we’d go help.

“It gave us a window into each other’s lives that is pretty rare,” Hager continued. “Although the gatherings ended in 1993, many of us by that time were friends, colleagues so we stayed in touch.”

In 2008 several of them were together and talked of writing a book about their experiences.

“There’s so many instances in Maine and elsewhere all over the country and in Canada of misunderstandings between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people,” Hager said. “We felt our experiences had something to offer to speak to those divisions and how we might begin to heal those divisions and work together for the benefit of all of us.”

Three Wabanaki with Hager and one other nonnative formed a planning group. At the first meeting others who should be involved were identified.

“We wound up with 14, seven Wabanaki and seven nonnatives,” Hager said. “It was important that those numbers be equal. We had three or four reunions where we planned the book together.”


Interviews were taped and transcribed.

“Everything in the book had to have the approval of everyone, so people not only were able to have full rights over their story but also the book as a whole,” Hager said. “When it came together they all signed off that they were pleased with how they were represented. People had input into the structure of the book.”

Finding a publisher to hold the book took about three years, she said. COVID-19 added six months to a year to the process.

The book is available at Devaney, Doak and Garrett Booksellers in Farmington.

“We talk in the book about what it means to be here legitimately and how we can work with Indigenous people to repair what we’ve done to the earth,” Hager said. “Why can’t we come together, figure that out?

“Maine is dead last in terms of the opportunities available for tribes to better themselves, improve their situation,” she continued. “That in turn spills over into their rural neighbors. It’s like the rising tide that floats all boats. In keeping down a whole segment of the population, we depress the whole state.”

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