“There is power in unity. When tribal nations are seen as sovereign bodies we can work together toward a better relationship with other governments. When cities and towns celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, a foundation of trust and understanding can be created. When we are seen as people and not stereotypes or mascots, we can build on shared humanity. It is truly all about respect.”
Penobscot Nation Ambassador
Penobscot Nation Tribal Council
Maine Center for Economic Policy board member
Human Resources Director for the Penobscot Indian Nation Enterprises
Member of the Penobscot Nation Cultural & Historic Preservation Department
Author of Through These Eyes: Poetry of a Penobscot Woman
When Maulian Dana, the first appointed Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador, looks outside her home on Penobscot Indian Island Reservation in Maine, she sees a place where, for centuries, her people have been connected. As she told Maine Women Magazine, “I come from a long line of tribal leaders, and I was raised by strong women. … Both of my grandmothers had leadership positions in the tribe, and my father was Penobscot chief when I was a teenager. Seeing my dad’s experiences as chief … helped shape who I am today.”
In addition to her current role as the tribe’s ambassador, Dana serves on the board of the Maine Center for Economic Policy and is serving a four-year term (selected in 2016) on the Penobscot Nation Tribal Council. Previously, Dana served as the Human Resources director for Penobscot Indian Nation Enterprises and worked in the Penobscot Nation Cultural & Historic Preservation Department. Having been raised on Indian Island, Dana has been able to take all that she learned within her community and share that information with the wider world through her activism. “I learned early on to speak my truth,” she says.
Dana recalls the uncomfortable feeling she had as a teenager as she watched a high school basketball game between the Nokomis Warriors and the Skowhegan Indians. The fans of both teams came to the game with painted faces – their idea of war paint – and wore Native American costumes, while making stereotypical war cries. Dana turned to her dad and said, “Is that how they think of us?” Dana saw in that moment that the use of Native Americans as mascots must end. She explained that “these displays incite dangerous thought patterns that lead to racist and sometimes violent behavior against the marginalized target group.” Dana also noted that “[m]y reaction was not a political correctness crusade on ignorant but well-meaning people cheering for a team.”
In high school Dana joined in the effort to help educate communities about the harm that stereotyping Native Americans as mascots brings to both Native American and non-Native American communities. She continued her efforts at the University of Maine, Orono, where she received the prestigious Margaret Chase Smith Public Affairs Scholarship in 2005 and graduated in 2006 with a degree in political science. In 2007, Dana published a book of poetry, Through These Eyes: Poetry of a Penobscot Woman.
From her moment of rage as a teenager to her appointment as ambassador of her people’s nation, her work has made a big impact; more than twenty schools in Maine stopped using Native American-related mascots. On March 7, 2019, the Skowhegan School Board voted to “retire” the high school’s “Indian” mascot. Even with these victories, Dana knows how much more there is to do; “[s]ocial change isn’t easy….[T]his is a marathon, not a sprint,” she says.
Through her role as ambassador, Dana presents issues important to both the Penobscot Nation and to ever wider Native and non-Native audiences. These issues range from land use, water rights, and tribal sovereignty to violence against Native American women, the eradication of the use of Native American mascots, and replacing Columbus Day with a holiday that honors the Indigenous communities’ presence thousands of years before European contact. As Dana told UMaine News, “[a]s we’ve seen in this country, monuments, statues, words, mascots, all of these things have implications on how races interact….And I think any action we can have of unity between groups is a really positive [thing]….”
Elaborating on her effort to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, Dana reminds us that Christopher Columbus “…did not discover anything because there were people already here. He did not actually step foot in North America, so having a holiday that credits him with the founding of our country is not only outdated but deeply offensive and hurtful to the descendants of the Indigenous People that were targeted for systemic genocide not only in the settling of America but in the generations that followed through attacks on our identity and culture.”
Dana also reminds Mainers that the Native American communities’ “stewardship of the lands and waters are part of what makes our state worthy of the nickname Vacationland.” She adds that “[w]e have humbly requested that these contributions be acknowledged and appreciated in ways that may seem symbolic but [are] very significant in correcting the narrative of history and validating truth and what is worth honoring.”
During her first year as the Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador, Dana has realized two of her long-time goals. The Maine legislature voted in 2019 to ban the use of Native American mascots in public schools. And on April 26, 2019, Governor Janet T. Mills signed legislation that replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, joining a handful of other states that have done the same. Having won yet another battle on behalf of Native American communities in Maine, Dana marked the signing of this legislation by saying : “[The Governor’s action] shows a true intent to honor the Indigenous Nations of our state and [bring] all citizens to an elevated understanding and reconciliation of our shared history.” There is no question that Dana’s early start at “speaking her truth” is transforming the perception of Native peoples in the state of Maine.
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