Gatherings: Reimagining Indigenous-Settler Relations

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    Shirley N. Hager, Mawopiyane

    Publisher: University of Toronto Press

    Year: 2021

    Format: Hardcover

    Size: 305 pages

    ISBN: 9781487508951

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In a world that requires knowledge and wisdom to address developing crises around us, The Gatherings shows how Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can come together to create meaningful and lasting relationships.

Thirty years ago, in Wabanaki territory – a region encompassing the state of Maine and the Canadian Maritimes – a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals came together to explore some of the most pressing questions at the heart of Truth and Healing efforts in the United States and Canada. Meeting over several years in long-weekend gatherings, in a Wabanaki-led traditional Council format, assumptions were challenged, perspectives upended, and stereotypes shattered. Alliances and friendships were formed that endure to this day.

The Gatherings tells the moving story of these meetings in the words of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants. Reuniting to reflect on how their lives were changed by their experiences and how they continue to be impacted by them, the participants share the valuable lessons they learned.

The many voices represented in The Gatherings offer insights and strategies that can inform change at the individual, group, and systems levels. These voices affirm that authentic relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples – with their attendant anxieties, guilt, anger, embarrassments, and, with time, even laughter and mutual affection – are key to our shared futures here in North America. Now, more than ever, it is critical that we come together to reimagine Indigenous-settler relations.

About the Authors

To reflect the collaborative nature of this project, the word Mawopiyane is used to describe the full group of co-authors. Mawopiyane, in Passamaquoddy, literally means "let us sit together," but the deeper meaning is of a group coming together, as in the longhouse, to struggle with a sensitive or divisive issue – but one with a very desirable outcome. It is a healing word and one that is recognizable in all Wabanaki languages.


Gwen Bear
Shirley Bowen
Alma H. Brooks
JoAnn Hughes
Debbie Leighton
Barb Martin
T. Dana Mitchell
Wayne A. Newell
Betty Peterson
Marilyn Keyes Roper
Wesley Rothermel

Afterword by Dr. Frances Hancock

Table of Contents

With Gratitude
Notes on Terminology


The Talking Circle

Shirley H.
Shirley B.

The Last Gathering
The Decision
The Gatherings: May 1987 to May 1993
Creating This Book

The Giveaway Blanket

The Circle and Ceremony
The Circle and Decision Making
Ceremony: Protect or Share It?

Allies, Friends, Family
The Women Compare Notes
The Relationship Evolves

How We Got Here
The Doctrine of Discovery
But What about the Treaties?
The Personal Is Political
Economic Self-Determination
Beginning to Make Amends
Some Progress ... and a Long Way to Go

How It Could Be Different
Being Here Legitimately
Acknowledging First Peoples/Honoring the Treaties
An Indigenous Worldview
The Need for Gathering Spaces
Creating a Gathering Space
Working Together on a Cause
Humility versus “White Guilt”
Non-Natives Working with Our Own People
Entering the Longhouse

Being in the Relationship: An Afterword by Dr. Frances Hancock

Appendix: How This Book Came to Be
Suggested Resources
Map: Location of the Gatherings
Reader’s Guide

What People Are Saying

"The Gatherings is an unusual book in the powerful authenticity of feeling it expresses." Dana White, OFF RADAR,

"The Gatherings: Reimaging Indigenous-Settler Relations offers eye-opening information that is beautifully tied together with thought-provoking and insightful stories from individuals who have initiated the work that needs to be done to end the fragile relationships between Indigenous peoples and settlers." Carly Smith, Cloud Lake Literary

"Calling themselves collectively 'Mawopiyane,' a Passamaquoddy word meaning 'let us sit together,' they spent several years piecing together this simply framed, but profoundly encouraging book." Dana Wilde, National Book Critics Circle, The Working Waterfront

"The authors share the insights they have gained on how Natives and non-Natives can work well together by acknowledging First Peoples, honoring agreements, understanding their worldviews, and being in conversation with one another." David Etheridge, Friends Journal

"Very impressive. The contributions of these men and women are noteworthy and deserve to be read and available to all persons who are interested and want to learn from them." The Hon. Graydon Nicholas, Chancellor and Endowed Chair in Native Studies, St. Thomas University, and Former Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick

"Shirley N. Hager’s gentle and affirming spirit shines through as she introduces the reader to this unique, collective experience. I felt so much gratitude for each participant, opening themselves to let strangers in." Beth Clifford, Curriculum Coordinator, Maine Indian Education

"In this book, White Americans and Native Americans speak from different perspectives of their experience in the circle as they patiently forge a transforming experience across difference." Terry Chadsey, Former Executive Director, Center for Courage & Renewal

"I had intended to only take a quick look at the book and come back to it later, but once I started reading I couldn’t stop. The Gatherings is a very well-constructed book of great importance both as a cultural document and as a tool for teaching and learning." Keith Helmuth, Founding Trustee of Quaker Institute for the Future and Author of Tracking Down Ecological Guidance: Presence, Beauty, Survival

"This book brings together voices and perspectives, rarely shared so openly and bluntly, on the long road and commitment needed to cultivate understanding across cultures, and particularly across Native/non-Native communities." Holly Wilkinson, Executive Director, WholeHeart, Inc.

The Gatherings calls me back to the deepest roots of my own faith tradition. Several times it brought me to tears. There is deep healing here, and truth, and an even deeper love.” Noah Merrill, Secretary, New England Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

"The Gatherings is a work of love. Love isn't always pretty or easy and it can only take hold and be effective if there is truth, commitment, and honesty. The authors and participants lead with love and the result is something we can all learn and grow from no matter our background or perspective." Maulian Dana, Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador and Wabanaki Alliance Board President

"The Gatherings offers an uplifting and honest look into the challenging work of ‘sitting together’ after all that has transpired. Many authors describe pushing through their first impressions and preconceived notions only to find common ground and joy in new understandings. I am grateful to Shirley N. Hager and to Mawopiyane for choosing compassion over judgement thirty years ago – and for guiding us all toward the same choice today." Natasha Cecelia Simon, Nihkanatpat (Director), Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre, University of New Brunswick

"The Gatherings is a reflection of our way and who we are collectively as a people, family, community. We share who we are as brothers and sisters and belong. The Gatherings offers encouragement and guidance to how we are to be with our family, community, and people. We have an obligation to pass on teachings to make our shared world a paradise for us all. Kcitpit woli pemosawogan, skijinawe wolumsitwawogan, skijinawe imiawokan. Koselmolpa." Darrell Newell, Former Vice-Chief, Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkmikuk/Indian Township, Maine

"Reading The Gatherings filled me with gratitude. I’m grateful that our elders’ words will always be remembered. I’m grateful that I can pass this book on to my children and they, too, can hear these words. Woliwon, Shirley, you have given us all a gift." Osihkiyol Crofton-Macdonald, Ambassador, Houlton Band of Maliseets, Maine

"The Gatherings offers perspectives that are largely unheard and underrecognized. Hearing from real people on their experience in gathering is inspiring. As a young professional and student, I look forward to returning to the teachings offered in the book such as patience, understanding, and collaboration." Leanne Hudson, Mi’kmaw Bachelor of Arts Student and Aspiring Educator, St. Thomas University

"The Gatherings is the extraordinary recounting of the coming together of people who shared some of their most personal experiences to create greater understanding between the Wabanaki and settlers. The book reminds us that culture is lived and the diminishment or the loss of any people’s culture is a tremendous loss for humanity. Hopefully, it teaches and inspires new converts to join in the movement to have settler governments fully recognize Wabanaki inherent sovereignty." John Dieffenbacher-Krall, Executive Director, Wabanaki Alliance, Old Town, Maine

"The Gatherings is a must-read for those seeking an ethical and moral way forward toward repair and equity that avoids the dangerous pitfalls of white saviorism, cultural appropriation, and cheap grace. Descendants of European settler-colonists have, for too long, turned a blind eye or worse, done great harm to the original inhabitants of Turtle Island, the Indigenous peoples who stewarded the land for millennia before our arrival. Those who participated in the gatherings and write of them in this book provide a beacon of hope that points the way through truth-telling to deep respect and authentic relationships of trust." Rev. Jane Field, Executive Director, Maine Council of Churches

"As an educator and advocate for social justice, I'm grateful to have The Gatherings as a resource for both faith-based and community groups. In the first part of the book, the fourteen contributors, half Native and half non-Native, introduce themselves in a way that replicates a talking circle around a fire. The second part, ‘The Giveaway Blanket,’ conveys some of the wisdom shared in that sacred circle. If you've wondered how Indigenous-settler relations could ever be repaired and connections made better, this remarkable book offers welcome insights about ‘the work of love,’ building mutual respect and trust over time." Marvin M. Ellison, Willard S. Bass Professor Emeritus of Christian Ethics, Bangor Theological Seminary and Author of Making Love Just

"As an adjunct professor teaching in an International Peace and Conflict Resolution program in Pennsylvania, I found this book to be an important addition to our discussions about Truth and Reconciliation processes and their possible use in healing the trauma inflicted on the Native American peoples. Shirley N. Hager and Mawopiyane share with us how a bridge can be built when we deeply listen to the pain suffered over centuries (and in the present) of our Native American sisters and brothers. We see how healing is possible through patience, a willingness to be present, and the compassion to grieve with them. I am grateful for these stories and the undoing of myths and stereotypes we tend to grow up with." Barbara Simmons, International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program, Arcadia University, and Ambassador, L.O.V.E. is the Answer

"Reading and working with the book, The Gatherings: Reimagining Indigenous-Settler Relations, has helped me realize a more authentic and experiential relationship with the land, both personally and professionally. In it, I have found actionable language to use with students and colleagues to address the dangers of appropriation, the abuses of power, and romanticizing culture. It challenges us to reflect on the role of schools and how a curriculum can steal a whole peoples’ identity under the auspices of assimilation to the dominant narrative or can act as an agent of progress and empathy that recognizes the need for true diversity and collaboration towards a common, human vision." Christiane Cullens, MSEd, NBCT, English Teacher, Mount Desert Island High School, Bar Harbor, Maine

"The Gatherings is a powerful book with much-needed lessons for the fostering of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations. The wisdom shared by Shirley N. Hager and all of Mawopiyane has the ability to not only help reconcile these groups but offers ways to foster better relationships with all groups in these increasingly divided times." Michael Young, Social Studies Teacher, Cape Elizabeth (Maine) High School

"In documenting their gatherings and sharing this book, Shirley N. Hager and Mawopiyane have opened their circle and invited us in. We all, as individuals and as communities, are the richer for this gift. The wonderings, missteps, and joys that are celebrated in these stories illuminate the pain of Indigenous-settler relations. They also show a way toward healing. One story at a time, The Gatherings shows how relationships are stitched together with great care and intention and a community is woven one gathering at a time. Reading this book introduced brave new conversations and questions in our community and highlighted the power and integrity of relationship. If possible, I suggest you read this book in community so you can learn and grow alongside others. But however you come to The Gatherings, arrive to the circle ready to be vulnerable and honest, shaken and changed. You will be in good company." Rev. Lisa Steele-Maley, Dean, ChIME (Chaplaincy Institute of Maine)

"As someone who has been engaged in other Indigenous-settler conversations and in advocacy for Indigenous visibility and sovereignty over the past thirty years, I find the voices of the individual participants very powerful. The Gatherings is a valuable guide for settler descendants to continue such conversations, and to reflect on what actions might be appropriate responses to the information shared in this book." John Maddaus, Associate Professor Emeritus of Education, University of Maine (Orono)

"The Gatherings is an inspiring and hopeful account of trust-building and knowledge-sharing across cultures over several decades. The stories and the voices shared in The Gatherings are more vital today than ever before. Shirley N. Hager and Mawopiyane bring curious, compassionate, and authentic perspectives to complex and challenging issues." Matt DeLaney, Director, Jesup Memorial Library, Bar Harbor, Maine

"As a professional meeting facilitator and author of a book about understanding across differences, this book is a gem. The real deal. The author takes us deep into the stories of people who were at first afraid but then discovered first-hand the magic that happens when we walk through our fears and really listen to each other. This book has made that magic available to us all and has provided inspiration for stepping through our own discomforts." Craig Freshley, Author of Together We Decide: An Essential Guide for Making Good Group Decisions

"Thoughtful, moving, and deeply inspiring, The Gatherings shares both important context for current Indigenous-settler relations, but also tangible ways we might deepen our mutual understanding and repair essential relationships. Months after reading the book I am still moved by the vulnerability and honesty of the contributors." Willow J. Anderson, Founder, Social Fabric Institute Inc.

Tags: Frances Hancock ....... indigenous ....... settler colonialism ....... Shirley N. Hager ....... University of Toronto Press .......