A story worth hearing

By The Republican Journal Editorial Board | Oct 17, 2019

Penobscot Ambassador Maulian Dana spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of several dozen at the Belfast Free Library in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day Oct. 14, and quoted the current saying, "When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression."

Dana, who grew up on Indian Island, has held the ambassador post for about two years. She said the job is very open-ended, allowing her to represent her people and educate fellow Mainers by speaking in schools, talking to community groups, working with the Legislature and engaging in community activism.

So far, she has gotten the most publicity for two symbolic achievements: legislation officially changing the holiday formerly known as "Columbus Day" to "Indigenous Peoples Day" in Maine, and another law banning the use of Indian mascots. But she said even these achievements are not inconsequential, because they change our culture incrementally, and so they have an effect on the larger society's attitude toward native peoples.

She told how, when she was a child, her mother was very excited to take her to see the Disney movie, "Pocahontas," which seemed to tell a flattering story about a Native American girl. However, looking back, she said, she sees how the movie whitewashed the history of European relations with native peoples, as well as the tragedy of Pocahontas' life. For Dana, seeing the way Native Americans were depicted in movies and images of them that were used as mascots felt demeaning, like she was being mocked.

It is vital for those of us who have not had experiences like Dana's to hear her story, and those of her people, in order to be able to see how images and ideas we may not have thought much about can hurt and oppress others.

Even though Maine has now changed the name of the early October holiday, there are some who resist the change: After her talk in Belfast, Dana was going to a rally in Waterville protesting the mayor's declaring the day "Columbus Day," despite the new law.

Lest we be tempted to view all of this as mere political correctness, we should consider why changes like renaming a holiday cause such offense to some. If the change were truly trivial, no one would care. The fact that it has the power to offend — sometimes seriously — means that it is significant.

Changing the name of the holiday, retiring Indian mascots — these are symbolic acts of recognition that native people have not always been treated with respect and have not always been accorded the rights they are due. They presage the demand for more substantive changes, which Dana is also working on.

She was involved in getting a Wabanaki (the generic term for members of Maine's five Indigenous tribes) seat on the board of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, and in the crafting of water rights legislation.

We were grateful to hear Dana speak also of the importance of patience and compassion in working for cultural and systemic change. If she, who has suffered at the larger society's hands, can show compassion, those of us who have taken our privilege for granted ought to respond in kind.

"We still have a long way to go," Dana said. But we have taken some important first steps. We hope to hear more from Dana and other Wabanaki people about how Maine can become a more inclusive and equitable place for all of its residents.

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This day in history

On October 17, 1931, gangster Al Capone is sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax evasion and fined $80,000, signaling the downfall of one of the most notorious criminals of the 1920s and 1930s.

Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1899 to Italian immigrants. He was expelled from school at 14, joined a gang and earned his nickname “Scarface” after being sliced across the cheek during a fight. By 1920, Capone had moved to Chicago, where he was soon helping to run crime boss Johnny Torrio’s illegal enterprises, which included alcohol-smuggling, gambling and prostitution.

He got out early in 1939 for good behavior, after spending his final year in prison in a hospital. Plagued by health problems for the rest of his life, Capone died in 1947 at age 48 at his home in Palm Island, Florida.

Source: History.com

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