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Elementary Wabanaki Studies Curriculum Launched

After more than five years of a highly collaborative process with Indigenous advisors from across the Dawnland – of which Maine is a part – the Portland Public Schools has officially launched a Wabanaki Studies curriculum across all elementary schools.

A team of PPS teachers has been working with advisors from the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Mi'kmaq, and Maliseet/Wolastoq nations, as well as students, parents, and community partners, to build a preK-12 Wabanaki Studies curriculum that weaves Wabanaki studies into varied subjects. Following this launch at the elementary level, the curriculum will be introduced to all middle and high school social studies classes in the 2024-2025 school year.

Since most PPS educators are not Indigenous and did not experience Wabanaki Studies in their own schooling, the implementation of this curriculum requires a very deliberate approach to professional development to support educators with new learning (and unlearning) around the content, in addition to learning about the units and how to teach them.

As a kickoff event to launch the elementary Wabanaki Studies curriculum, district elementary educators attended an event at the Portland Museum of Art on Jan. 11 and 18 that featured keynote speaker Dr. Darren Ranco, chair of Native American Studies at the University of Maine in Orono. Dr. Ranco has served as a key advisor throughout the development of the PPS curriculum.

A statewide report this past fall praised the Portland Public Schools as an exception to the report’s conclusion that most Maine schools have not complied with a landmark 2001 state law requiring incorporating Wabanaki studies into the curriculum. “There are some successes, including Portland Public Schools, which have collaborated with Wabanaki tribes and experts to reconfigure their curriculum with Wabanaki Studies at the core,” stated the report, a collaborative effort between the Wabanaki Alliance, the Abbe Museum, the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

The district plans to share more information about this important and inspiring curriculum work during a February meeting of the Portland Board of Public Education.