As part of its work to develop the first comprehensive Wabanaki Studies curriculum in the state of Maine, the Portland Public Schools (PPS) is creating a documentary film series to serve as a central text for each grade level. The district is exploring ways to share this resource with schools around the state.
When PPS established equity as a central goal, the district decided to start by helping students deepen their understanding of their own community and place. The Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, and Abenaki tribes have stewarded the land we now call Maine for thousands of years. A team of PPS teachers has been working with tribal advisors, students, parents, and community partners to build a preK-12 Wabanaki studies curriculum since 2017. This team decided a film would be the best way to bring the voices of Indigenous people in Maine directly into classrooms and center their experiences.
Bridgid Seqoniw Neptune, a citizen of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, former PPS parent, and consultant to the Wabanaki studies curriculum development, described the collaboration as follows, “PPS is leading the state in this [Wabanaki curriculum development] work. They have, and continue to, center Indigenous voices and perspectives, which has earned them confidence and buy-in from community leaders, Elders, and young people.”
The PPS curriculum team is planning one or more short videos for each grade-level unit of study. This documentary series will unfold over the years of a child’s education. Each segment will include a combination of interviews and other footage such as clips of seasonal activities that demonstrate contemporary land use and stewardship practices occurring within Wabanaki communities today. Examples will include maple sugaring, elvering, sweet grass collecting, blueberry harvesting, hunting, and basketmaking. These examples will connect with interviews and will also be accompanied by a short instructional video for teachers to view before launching the units.
“The film will amplify Wabanaki voices, perspectives, and knowledge for our students,” said Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Melea Nalli. “While we are proud of the curriculum work we are doing, we also recognize that it has taken us far too long to meet the requirements outlined in the 2001 law obligating all schools in Maine to teach Wabanaki Studies. Because this type of resource development and long-term partnership is not replicable in smaller districts, we are excited to explore ways to share what we are creating.”
The Foundation for Portland Public Schools (FPPS) is raising the funds needed to create the film. The project is funded to date by a $100,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, along with many smaller grants and donations. Other key supporters include the Maine Audubon, Hudson Foundation, Portside Real Estate Group, Martin’s Point Health Care, Maine Community Foundation, the Portland Public Schools, and several individual donors.