MARIA GIROUARD, Executive Director
Maria Girouard of Penobscot Nation is an historian with particular expertise in the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act. She holds a master’s degree in history from the University of Maine. Maria is a longstanding community organizer and activist of environmental and social justice. She is a founder of The Peoples' Garden community garden at Penobscot Nation and dedicates many volunteer hours to community gardening. Maria is a 2015 recipient of the prestigious Maryann Hartman Award for her advocacy work on preserving the rights and cultural heritage of Penobscot Nation.
Heather Augustine is a member of the Elsipogtog First Nation Canada and lives in Brunswick ME with her four children. She has served as a therapeutic foster parent, a corrections officer, and as President of the Native student group at USM where she attended college. During the planning stages of the TRC, Heather participated in a REACH retreat that brought Wabanaki folks together to talk about child welfare and truth-telling. She recalls: “That was the first time I heard about the Indian Child Welfare Act; my dad is an Indian Residential School survivor, so that’s had a huge impact obviously on my life.”
Heather spent some time in Oakland, California working as a professional break dancer, it was there that she was introduced to the Intertribal Friendship House, an urban center for Native people to come together. She returned to Maine with the goal of creating such a space here. “It really took—I think almost 20 years for me to make that happen, I started working on bringing Native people in mid-coast and Southern Maine together just to share our stories, our culture, and our lives with one another” she continues, “I’ve been nurturing that community for almost two years now. We call it Mawita’nej First Nation Youth Group, it means 'where we gather.' This has been the joy of my life.”
As a Maine Community Organizer, Tom Reynolds focuses on outreach and engagement in the non-Native communities in southern Maine. Tom has a strong background in organizing and advocacy on behalf of civil and human rights causes and campaigns, including marriage equality, protecting voter rights and health care access. His community outreach, education and advocacy have laid a strong foundation for improved outcomes in relation to laws and policies that impact people’s day-to-day lives. Tom lives in Lewiston has been the chair of a county political committee and a member of the statewide committee since 2010.
Erlene Paul, a Penobscot tribal citizen, holds a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Maine. She has over 35 years of management and administrative experience working in various capacities for the Penobscot Nation. For 20 of those years, she was the Human Services Director and was responsible for social services programming. Also during her tenure as Human Services Director, she was part of the original group that created and convened the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In her capacity as Administrative Director for REACH, she is helping to build the administrative structure, including the development of a grant management system and compilation of tribal data and other baseline information needed for submission of grants.
Since joining the team as the Wabanaki Wellness Coordinator, Brian Altvater would agree that there are so many wonderful things to be done. Brian has been working to promote health and wellness in Wabanaki communities before REACH came into existence. He has played a leadership role in his community, worked with the Schoodic River Keepers to restore the St Croix River, and provided cultural connection to Wabanaki people in Maine prisons.
When asked why he wanted to work with REACH, Brian says, “what REACH stands for – that’s how I live my life.” Knowing and trusting many people who are part of REACH, Brian had a sense that “if I came up with an idea – that it would be supported and embraced.” Brian plans to engage people in doing things together “just to have fun and help each other out. Help people however you can help them. Don’t just look after your own – look after the whole tribe. Over the past 60 years, I’ve built alliances, contacts with people I know from all over the place.”
“People are realizing that we all have to help one another, care for one another.” That is central to what Brian brings to REACH.
Erika connects with individuals who want to contribute a new statement to the TRC archive or make changes to previously contributed statements. She was on the research staff for the TRC, and previously collaborated on research with the group that initiated the TRC. She has extensive training and experience in working with survivors of trauma to find a new sense of safety and a path toward healing and runs her own private mental health practice in midcoast Maine.
Jillian is a Penobscot Nation citizen who holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Husson University where she has experience working as a research assistant. As a research assistant, she gathered data for grant reporting purposes and assisted with grants involving diabetes and opioid addiction in Wabanaki communities in Maine.
Her experience working with tribes is extensive and she has served her community well. At Penobscot Nation, Jillian has interned at the health center, served as an AmeriCorps volunteer at the Department of Human Services, worked as a tutor and substitute teacher at Indian Island School, a preschool teacher at The Children’s Center and a youth counselor at the Boys and Girls Club.
"I am excited and honored to work with Wabanaki REACH. I feel it is an opportunity to give back to Native communities and show my appreciation for all that I have been given by my Wabanaki mentors over the years". Jillian is married, enjoys hiking, running and spending time with family. She also loves dogs, especially "De-ah" whom she enjoys walking.
Kate Russell, a theatremaker and poet, believes storytelling is at the heart of community. She is the Founding Artistic Director of Threadbare Theatre Workshop, which makes theatre from scratch in rural places with local people. In 2018, she was invited as a Visiting Artist to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts– soon after, she made her home on an island off the coast of what we now call Maine. Kate holds a BFA in Theatre from Rutgers, Mason Gross School of the Arts where her most formative year was spent in residence at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. She is honored to serve as Project Coordinator for Wabanaki REACH's truth-telling initiative, Beyond the Claims– Stories from the Land + the Heart.
Andrea Francis, Assistant Director
Andrea is a citizen of the Mi’kmaq Nation (formerly Aroostook Band of Micmacs) and lives with her son in Portland. She has lived in Maine since 2016 when she moved from Tucson, AZ to be closer to her father’s side of the family and learn more about her Indigenous ancestry. As a graduate of USM’s Master of Public Health program, she was involved with Wabanaki REACH as a Community Research Assistant with the Data Innovation Project. As a student in this position, she helped create a data work plan, utilizing indicators from the Maine Wabanaki State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission report for the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Workgroup. Andrea helped organize the 2019 Wabanaki REACH Wellness Gathering and eagerly joined the cast of Indian Radio Days that year.
Andrea has become more involved in Maine’s nonprofit sector and is currently serving as a board member for Maine Initiatives. She loves living in Maine and tries to find time to explore the outdoors and the regional native plants as much as possible. She is looking forward to expanding her community and creating positive change.