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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee Meeting

On Sept. 26, 2023, the counselor members of Orono’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee (DIEB) convened. In this meeting, Malcolm Himshoot, Sonja Birthisel, Michael Williams, Jeff Lowe, Doug Johnson and Emily Ross discussed issues regarding the town’s ties to the Penobscot Nation. 

At the beginning of the meeting, Williams, the director for the DIEB, spoke about a council workshop in August 2020. In this workshop, Darren Ranco, an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Coordinator of Native American Research at the University of Maine, lectured on the history of the Penobscot Nation and its coordination with the town of Orono.

“He was able to give us a really nice lineage and timeline of life for Chief Orono,” said Williams. Joseph Orono was a Penobscot chief who lived in the mid to late 18th century to 19th century. The town of Orono is named after him. 

Williams later said that Ranco stated, “If we do this collaboration right, there is a lot to be gained.”

Furthermore, the counselor members discussed how they should be going about their relationship with the Penobscot Nation, specifically a formal apology the town council hopes to give to the Penobscot Council as a form of growth. 

Himshoot, a pastor at the Church of Universal Fellowship in Orono, said, “We are using tonight’s meeting to amplify the messaging we believe was meant to be heard, but maybe there are steps we can carry forward after this.”

The councilors gave more details on aspects brought up in earlier meetings. Williams spoke about land acknowledgments and mapping the town to show its historical content in relation to the Penobscot Tribe. 

Councilor Ross also mentioned how projects like this can bring in a creative and artistic side and presented the example of signage in town.

Johnson speaks further on the idea of taking small steps in order to convey their apology. He disagrees with the idea of an apology and doesn’t know how it will be received. 

However, Sarah Marx, a member of the Town Council, said, “The apology suggestion came directly from the people who were consulted. When they were asked what we do next, they said before going forward on these other steps at this point, I think a formal apology is needed.” 

Marx went on to say that this statement came directly from the Penobscot Nation. 

In this apology, the council wants to mention their “missed opportunity” regarding the meeting in August 2020 led by Ranco. They talked about the meeting as a way to learn how to approach the Penobscot Nation and a way to grow. They spoke further about educating themselves by working to understand better the ties between the people of Orono and Penobscot citizens.

“I think education is such a big part of what we need to be doing, and I feel like as a sort of a body that we are, and also the town council—this idea of meeting people where they are at, offers a level of trust,” said Williams.

It is then brought up that the Council has never gotten any pieces of training or talks directly from representatives of the Wabanaki people. Back in the August 2020 meeting, they had expressed their wishes for a speaker from the Wabanaki tribes to attend a meeting, but the plan had never come together. Councilor Lowe mentioned this could have never been held due to COVID-19.

Marx brought up a $50,000 fund that the town has in order to address these issues. 

“There is $50,000 in an assigned fund at this point. Which is there to address any changes that need to happen in relation to signage, any creative ideas moving beyond signage,” Marx said.

Marx continued by saying how some of the money could help pay members of the Penobscot Nation to speak at a meeting of the DEIB.

Ultimately, the Council agreed to reach out to the Penobscot Nation to set a formal process for meeting needs and taking accountability. The full live stream can be found on the Town of Orono’s Facebook page. 

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