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Penobscot Nation member Sherri Mitchell speaks on decolonization

On Nov. 19 in the Bangor Room of the Memorial Union, Sherri Mitchell of the Penobscot Indian Reservation (Penawahpskek) gave a talk called “Decolonizing Our Hearts and Minds.” Mitchell used the forum as a platform to share creation stories of the Penobscot Nation and her thoughts on decolonization.

This event was one in a series celebrating Native American Heritage Month, which is held during the month of November. On campus, events are presented by the University of Maine Wabanaki Center and the Office of Multicultural Student Life in collaboration with American Indian Student Organization.

“We are connected to that mother whale, who carried her baby around for 17 days to show us what we were doing to them, in her grief over the loss of her child,” Mitchell said. “And once I understood the depth of those connections and how much has happened to separate us from that truth, I began to understand the immensity of the work that was involved in truly decolonizing our hearts and minds. That we have to be willing to look at all of the things that have led us to believe that we are something other than that.”

The UMaine campus sits on the ancestral territory of the Penobscot Nation, a fact which was acknowledged by former UMaine President Susan Hunter and Chief Kirk Francis last May in a Memorandum of Understanding.

“Do we want to preserve our humanity? Do we want to preserve our compassion and awareness? Do we want to preserve our connection to the rest of life?” Mitchell asked the audience. “Those are the questions that we need to ask ourselves.”

Mitchell is the author of “Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change,” the founding director of the Land Peace Foundation and an organizer of the annual Healing Turtle Island gathering at Nibezun, Passadumkeag.

She regularly speaks and teaches on issues of indigenous rights, environmental justice and spiritual change around the world.

Mitchell was born and raised on the Penobscot Indian reservation. She earned her Juris Doctor and a certificate in Indigenous People’s Law and Policy from the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law. She has been involved with indigenous rights and environmental justice work from over 25 years and received the Mahoney Dunn International Human Rights and Humanitarian Award in 2010 for her research in human rights violations against indigenous peoples.

This event was sponsored by the UMaine Communication and Journalism Department, the College of Liberal Arts and Science, Decolonizing UMaine, Clement and Linda McGillicuddy, the Humanities Center as well as a grant from the Cultural Affairs and Distinguished Lecture Series.

There will be two more events in this series celebrating Native American Heritage Month.

Nov. 28 there will be a Lunch & Learn in the Multicultural Center in the Memorial Union from 12-1 p.m. The final event, an American Indian Student Organization Social, will be held on Nov. 30 from 1-2 p.m. in the Bangor Room of the Memorial Union. These events are free and open the public.

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