In November of 2006, eight people from my congregation gathered in Orono, Maine with about seventy other people for a celebration of the Giving Winds Capital Campaign. The invitation had mentioned hors d’oeuvres, but it was more truly a feast. We had corn chowder and salmon patties, bacon-wrapped scallops and stuffed mushrooms, veggies and corn fritters, and blueberry cake and fry bread. We listened to drumming by two young girls’ drumming groups, and heard the thanks of several of the leaders of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet tribes. We left with gifts of sweetgrass and traditionally made herbal insect repellent, and beadwork pins.
We heard the story of how the Giving Winds campaign came about. It began in brokenness. The Maine Council of Churches had decided a few years before to oppose a referendum that would have allowed the tribes to pursue casino gambling as a means to economic development. Representatives of the tribes had come to a council meeting to urge them to reconsider, and to speak about the difficult financial issues faced by their communities. But many members of the council had ethical principles against gambling, and they voted to go ahead with their opposition.
It was another painful moment in Indian relations with the non-Indian community here in Maine. But Tom Ewell, then director of the Council of Churches, did not want it to end there. He did some research and discovered the Four Directions Development Corporation that was just getting started. It was seeking to provide home loans and small business loans to Wabanaki people from the four tribes in Maine. Indian people had difficulty gaining credit, because if their homes were on Indian land, they could not be used as collateral for traditional mortgages or home improvement loans from a bank. Four Directions hoped to fill this gap, and to provide financial education and support for start-up businesses.
And so the Maine Council of Churches partnered with Four Directions to create the Giving Winds Capital Campaign. Congregations and individuals across Maine donated money and made low- or no-interest loans that were matched by the Federal Government. The campaign worked to build trust and connection between Indian and non-Indian people in Maine. When we ate with each other at the celebration in Orono, it was a moment of healing on a broken land.
I wanted to share this story because all too often, people feel it must be impossible to heal from five hundred years on a broken land. But I don’t believe it is impossible. Difficult yes, but there are simple steps we can take that move us in the direction toward wholeness. If we can learn to share the pain and share the struggles of Indian peoples, then we also will find ourselves sharing in the celebrations.