Posted on October 24, 2022

Portland’s New Charter Could Declare It Sits on Stolen Land

Troy R. Bennett, Bangor Daily News, October 19, 2022

In November, Portland residents are being asked to approve sweeping changes to the city’s charter including controversial items that would result in a strengthened mayor, a financially independent school board and a citizen-led police oversight board.

But, amid the ongoing fury, one charter change question among the eight-question list has been largely overshadowed. It would make Portland the only municipality that officially recognizes in its charter that it sits on unceded land, stolen from Indigenous peoples by European colonizers.

The question, which would alter the governing document’s preamble, was written by charter commissioner Pat Washburn.

It reads, in part, “Portland is located in the unceded territory of the Aucocisco Band of the Wabanaki … 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.”

It goes on to say, “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.”

Though only symbolic, with no repertory actions attached, Portland lawyer and Passamaquoddy tribal member Michael-Corey Hinton thinks the change is a good start.

“There’s no doubt that this is the very least that can be done,” Hinton said. “It’s important for people to understand why they don’t see Native Americans in southern Maine anymore.”

Many local and statewide organizations now begin meetings with land-acknowledgement statements, and a handful of other towns and cities have passed similar — though less forceful — resolutions. But none have baked such sweeping language into their charters.

Washburn said she claims no Native American ancestry and traces her lineage back to the Mayflower.

“I’m so lillywhite, I glow in the dark,” she said.

Washburn said she wrote the proposed change, in part, to acknowledge her own current privilege is based on the actions of her ancestors, and people like them.

“It’s on us to now support Indigenous people,” she said.