PLEASANT POINT, Maine -- (NEWS CENTER) Imagine being taken from your family at an early age and growing up in a place where no one looks like you, speaks your language or shares your beliefs.
It happened to generations of native Americans.
"I remember two station wagons coming to my house and collecting all our belongings in garbage bags and herding us into the station wagons and leaving my home," says Passamaquoddy Denise Altvater. "My mother wasn't there when they took us.
Altvater and five of her sisters spent seven years in foster care. They were sexually and physically abused ... but Altvater says it was the separation from their culture and the pressure to deny they were native that was most wounding.
Now the State of Maine is not only acknowledging its role is the saga but is entering into an unprecedented process to address the scope and depth of the issue.
Maine is the first state to agree to a Truth and Reconciliation process with its four Wabanaki tribes and the first government in the world to do so in a format where all parties work together from the get go.
"Its about truth, healing and change," says Martha Proulx, an Assistant Administrator with the Office of Child and Family Services within Maine's Dept. of Health and Human Services. "And its really about hearing those stories of people who went through the system and understanding what people went through, how it effects their families today with their own children that piece of generational trauma and to really work on healing so that when people need to work with the system on how children are being parented and parenting them safely they can really get past the past trauma.
State workers will also be invited to testify at hearings. "
Caseworkers at the time were really doing what was believed to be best practice," says Proulx. "I don't think anybody enters the social work field with bad intentions and wanting to cause more harm and trauma to families and people are doing the best with the knowledge at the time. Unfotunately this knowledge at the time wasn't the best and did impact native families in a negative way."
Both sides are hoping the TRC process will educate all Mainers about a dark chapter in our collective history ... provide a framework to ensure it never happens again ... and illuminate a path forward.
If you'd like to learn more about Maine's Truth and Reconciliation Commission click here: http://mainetribaltrc.org/