Portland voters will consider in November whether to amend the charter to acknowledge the city sits on Wabanaki land.

Question 1 would revise the charter’s preamble to recognize the original inhabitants of this area. Land acknowledgments such as this one are becoming more common in the U.S., although Portland could be one of the first municipalities in Maine to include one in its governing document.

“Portland is located in the unceded territory of the Aucocisco Band of the Wabanaki, which also includes the Abenaki, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot people,” the acknowledgment reads. “European colonizers displaced Wabanaki people by force and went on to displace and harm indigenous peoples throughout what is now Maine and the United States. We acknowledge that displacement and that harm with sorrow, even as we celebrate and honor the Wabanaki knowledge and culture that continue to thrive in the Tribal Nations that have and always will call this place, the Dawnland, their home.”

This question has not generated the same opposition or debate as others on the November ballot. Pat Washburn, who proposed the land acknowledgment when she held an at-large position on the Portland Charter Commission, said she hopes voters will consider this question “a no-brainer.”

“This is just the right thing to do,” Washburn said.

“I like to think that it would serve as a reminder to the leaders of Portland that we owe a debt, that we need to use more than our words to support the Indigenous tribes, that we support them with our actions and resources as well,” she added.


Supporters agreed the land acknowledgment would be a positive step and should be part of a broader commitment to Indigenous people in Portland.

“By doing this land acknowledgment, codifying it, I think that is the city of Portland making a commitment of not leaving the tribes behind,” said Councilor April Fournier, who in 2020 became the first Indigenous person elected to the City Council.

Fournier, who is a member of the Diné (Navajo) Nation, works as the national program manager for Advance Native Political Leadership, which aims to increase Native American representation in elected and appointed office at all levels across the country.

“All of that is really made possible because of the steps that we take within municipalities, within businesses, within public spaces to start to understand our history,” she said. “That goes directly hand in hand with land acknowledgment … You have to start with those little pieces of visibility.”

The city’s Charter Commission consulted with Native American leaders and historical resources before including the proposal in its final report.

“In recent years, many institutions have considered their history and set out to make some kind of amends for the wrongs of the past,” the report says. “While we cannot say that our city is perfect, we can at least acknowledge the violent and genocidal nature of the events that led to its creation.”


One of those people who provided feedback was Corey Hinton, a citizen of the Passamaquoddy tribe and the leader of the Tribal Nations Practice Group at the law firm Drummond Woodsum. He said he sees a land acknowledgment as one way to bring attention to tribal history that has often been whitewashed.

Hinton said many Mainers do not know about the atrocities of the past, such as government bounties put up to kill Native Americans in the 1700s, and he would also like to see Portland install more monuments to Indigenous history.

“I think there is a need for people to educate themselves about not just Maine’s painful past, but its dynamic present,” Hinton said. “It’s important for people to know there are five different Indigenous communities in Maine where there are unique languages and culture.”

Land acknowledgments are not new to Maine. Other examples can be found at the Abbe Museum, the University of Maine and the Portland Public Library. The Portland School Board begins every meeting with a similar statement. Superintendent Xavier Botana said he started reading a land acknowledgment during his remarks a few years ago at the suggestion of a teacher who has been developing the first comprehensive Wabanaki curriculum for the district.

“I’m proud of the fact that, in our case, the symbolic gesture followed the work that we had already started to bring the history and presence of Wabanaki people into our everyday function as an institution, which is to teach our kids,” Botana said.

The Westbrook City Council also recently unanimously adopted a land acknowledgment to read at every meeting. Councilor Michael Shaughnessy said he brought the proposal forward because he felt it was important to acknowledge the Indigenous people who once relied on the Presumpscot River that flows through the city.


Westbrook’s namesake was among the European settlers who built dams on the river in the 1700s to power paper mills and gristmills, disrupting fish migration and a major food source for Indigenous people. A monument to Chief Polin, who twice walked to Boston to persuade the governor to order the mill owners to install a fish passage, sits on the riverbank today.

“The dams were really acts of aggression on the people that lived here,” said Shaughnessy, who is also the president of the Friends of the Presumpscot River.

Question 1 has not attracted direct opposition, but one group has formed to oppose all 14 ballot questions. The Enough is Enough campaign has argued that political groups are manipulating the referendum process.

But Enough is Enough spokesman Matt Marks said the group is not taking a specific position on the land acknowledgment. Asked whether the campaign against all the questions might cause people to reject this one, he said people will make their own choices at the ballot box.

“We’ve been so focused on the bigger picture, we haven’t jumped on this question at all,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything much more to say on it.”

Fournier said that approach encourages “group think” and ignores the potential harm to Native people in Portland.

“The way our community members can ensure that Portland is echoing that commitment to the tribes is by passing things like this and not by just checking out of the election and saying, ‘I heard from this campaign so I’m going to vote no on everything,’” Fournier said.

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