STATE — Pine Tree Legal Assistance (PTLA) announces the creation of the Nan Heald Black Fly Fellowship, a new initiative to increase access to free civil legal aid in Western Maine.

The Nan Heald Black Fly Fellowship was created in memory of Pine Tree’s former executive director, Nan Heald, who led Pine Tree from 1990 until her death earlier this year. The project’s name is a nod to a 1970s newspaper editorial that described Pine Tree as a “defender of low income people which has burgeoned in Maine and become almost as omnipresent as black flies in June.”

The Nan Heald Black Fly Fellowship will begin as paid fellowship for a summer law student to work at Pine Tree Legal Assistance serving Franklin County, where Nan was from. The fellow will work on a combination of substantive legal work and community outreach, including building better relationships with community partners in that area of the state. The fellow’s legal work will focus on housing, public benefits, and family law and victims’ rights. The goal of the fellowship is to increase access to free civil legal aid in Western Maine.

Nan grew up in Oquossoc in the western mountains of Maine. She graduated from Smith College in 1977 and George Washington University Law School in 1980. In 1985, Nan joined Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Maine’s oldest and largest legal aid provider, as a staff attorney in its Native American Unit. Nan’s primary responsibility was to reverse the exclusion of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs from the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act – a reversal that was eventually achieved by the enactment of federal legislation that provides federal recognition to the tribe.

In 1990, at the age of 34, Nan became executive director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance.  She served in that position until the time of her death. Through the creative use of funding opportunities and other leveraged support, Nan’s leadership has enabled Pine Tree to fortify and expand the legal services and new areas of law available to diverse client populations, and to make justice more accessible for all the people of Maine.

Pine Tree’s Board of Directors will continue to raise funds for the project, with the hope that these new funds can have a greater impact. Already, Pine Tree has received close to $200,000 in donations in memory of Nan. Donations to the project can be mailed to Pine Tree Legal Assistance, P.O. Box 547, Portland, ME 04112 or made online at

“We want to honor Nan’s legacy with a project that will ensure access to free legal help is as omnipresent in Franklin County as black flies in June.” Said Dan Emery, Pine Tree’ Board President. “The Nan Heald Black Fly Fellowship will help low income residents of Franklin County protect their housing, livelihoods, and families.”

PTLA is non-profit law firm whose mission is to ensure that state and federal laws affecting poor people with low incomes are upheld, while simultaneously addressing the systemic barriers to justice faced by those Mainers. On June 14, 1966, Pine Tree Legal Assistance was incorporated and became one of the nation’s first statewide civil legal aid organizations. After securing funding from the Office of Economic Opportunity, Pine Tree opened its doors in July 1967 to provide help to people who had never before had access to the civil justice system.

This year, PTLA celebrates its 55th anniversary of providing free civil legal aid to Mainers with low incomes and expects to serve each year more than 6,000 individuals & families through direct legal assistance and more than one million people through its popular websites.

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