An Enduring Fight

Penobscot Ambassador Maulian Dana learned early on to speak her truth

Maulian Dana feels the voices of her ancestors thrumming through her blood and bones. Recently appointed as Ambassador to the Penobscot Nation, she endeavors to honor the past and address present-day tribal issues—all while keeping her eyes focused on the future.

“I come from a long line of tribal leaders, and I was raised by strong women,” Dana says. “Both of my grandmothers had leadership positions in the tribe, and my father was Penobscot chief when I was a teenager. Seeing my dad’s experiences as chief—there were some dramatic and scary moments—helped shape who I am today.”

Soft-spoken and insightful, Dana, 33, took the reins of leadership at an early age. After serving a year on the Penobscot Tribal Council (the tribe’s decision-making board), the newly created ambassador position presented itself. “The work I’ve been doing for most of my life led up to this. [The job] feels like a perfect fit and I am grateful to be chosen,” she says.   

Sworn in as ambassador in September, Dana has embraced all aspects of the position. From talking with civic and school groups to meeting with politicians and government officials, she uses a multi-faceted approach to strengthen the political profile of the Penobscot Nation.

“Maulian is a tireless advocate for our people,” says Donna Loring, Dana’s great-aunt and former tribal representative to the Legislature. “She has vision and imagination along with intelligence. I consider her the consummate diplomat.”

Maulian Dana stands outside her home on Indian Island holding an eagle feather. She was sworn in as Sworn in as Ambassador to the Penobscot Nation in September. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

In the very public role as ambassador, Dana carries on work that began in her teens and now unfolds on a larger canvas. She has been instrumental in the push to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, educating town councils and the public on the history of genocide and mistreatment of Maine’s native people.  Many cities—including Portland, Brunswick and Orono—have passed Indigenous People’s Day, and the momentum continues.

“Social change isn’t easy, but this is a marathon, not a sprint,” she says.

Dana may be best known as the local founder of the “Not Your Mascot/Maine” movement in Skowhegan and other towns. She clearly remembers how it began one winter day in her early teens, watching the televised state basketball tournament with her father.

“It was the Warriors vs. the Indians. People were covered in fake war paint, whooping and dancing in a really offensive way,” she says. “I turned to my dad and said, ‘Is that how they think of us?’ That was my wake-up call.”

By the time she was 16 and a student at John Bapst High School, Dana began visiting schools and participating in panel discussions, explaining that Indian mascots demean her heritage. She often faced boos, catcalls and angry shouts, but the experiences strengthened her resolve. Few Indian mascots remain in the state today, and she intends to persist until they are all eradicated.

“I learned early on to speak my truth,” she says. “I know Indian mascots are harmful and disrespect our culture. When things get hard, I remember facing those angry crowds when I was a teenager, and I find my courage.”

Other pressing issues that came with the ambassador job include the tribe’s struggle over watershed rights to the Penobscot River, the opioid crisis and a recent surge in overt racism. Driving all of her work is the enduring fight for recognition of the Penobscot Nation’s sovereignty.

Social change  isnt easy, but this is a marathon, not a sprint.

“Maulian is persistent. Beneath that quiet exterior lies the spirit of a badger,” says Loring, whom Dana names as an influential mentor. “She comes from a long line of Wabanaki women who have fought for social justice for our people.”

Through her parents and extended family, Dana’s childhood was steeped in the language and culture of the Penobscot tribe. Today she lives with her young daughters on Indian Island where she was raised; her mother Julia is the long-time teacher at Indian Island School.

Serving as ambassador to the Penobscot Nation can be both exhilarating and daunting. Dana draws on her spiritual connection with the land and water to sustain her. “I feel so fortunate to live on Indian Island. This community nourishes me,” she says. “When I walk in the forest and sit by the river, I can feel my ancestors with me.”

Grounded in her culture and guided by her own quiet courage, Maulian Dana hopes to help make the future brighter not only for her daughters, but for all the children of the Penobscot Nation.

Lori Douglas Clark is a journalist, poet and community volunteer who lives with her family in Readfield.

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