To make the campus a better place for Indigenous students, the best thing you can do is engage these students. The University of Maine Machias Kinap Mentorship Program enables Indigenous students to engage with their culture on campus and use what they have learned to strengthen the local tribal community.

Since about 2013, UMaine Machias has seen a slight decrease in the number of Native American students enrolled, said Darren Ranco, chair of Native American programs, associate professor of anthropology and coordinator of Native American research at the University of Maine. While UMaine’s Orono campus has facilities such as the Wabanaki Center and programs such as the Wabanaki Youth in Science (WaYS) program, which integrates science and Indigenous ways of learning into courses such as forestry and engineering, Ranco realized that there was not much of an Indigenous presence on the UMaine campus. Machias, despite its proximity to tribal communities in Washington County.

“We started thinking about ways to address those two situations — more student recruitment and retention programs and looking at ways to support Indigenous students at UMaine Machias,” Ranco said.

With this in mind, Ranco and his colleagues at the University of Maine Wabanaki Center and the WaYS program developed the Kinap Mentorship Program for Wabanaki students at the University of Maine at Machias. Kinap (pronounced gee-nap) loosely translates to “future leaders”.

Mentors, a group known as Kinapiyik (plural of Kinap, pronounced gee-nah-pee-yig), are responsible for participating in on- and off-campus programs aimed at bridging Wabanaki cultural values ​​and Indigenous ways of knowing. with Western Education.

“The design is based on what we learned through the WaYS program, with a bit of a ride,” Ranco said. “It uses the notion of two-eyes seeing, Indigenous science and Western science coming together in educational spaces.”

In the spring of 2021, UMaine hired Jennifer Isherwood as the Assistant Coordinator of Native American Student Outreach and Development at UMaine Machias to launch the program and establish a resource person for Native American students on campus.

“I think it’s innovative in a place where there aren’t a lot of programs specifically targeting Indigenous students,” Isherwood said. “There is no full-time Indigenous faculty at UMaine Machias, so having a representative there who is dedicated solely to supporting Indigenous students is brand new.

In addition to helping connect Indigenous students with resources including tuition waivers, Isherwood has recruited students for the Kinap Mentorship Program, which launched in fall 2021. She said the recruitment process was harder than it looks. Not all Indigenous students identify themselves when applying to UMaine, so Isherwood worked with members of the tribal community to connect with students, in addition to posting flyers and spreading the word of more traditional way.

“Gaining that trust and that relationship takes time; you can’t expect this to happen overnight,” Isherwood said.

The first cohort of the Kinap mentorship program had four students, which Ranco says is impressive considering the size of UMaine Machias and the winnowing population of Indigenous students on campus. One of the core members, Xander LaComb, a first-year visual arts student from Norway, Maine, said the idea of ​​promoting Indigenous culture on campus attracted him to the program.

“I didn’t grow up in an area with a lot of native culture,” LaComb said. “I really liked the idea of ​​being able to establish that here.”

Even in his first year with his small but mighty cohort, Kinap mentors accomplished a lot. Isherwood hosted a variety of activities, including social gatherings, talks from native leaders, and roundtables with students and faculty involved in projects that positively impact tribal communities across the state.

Last semester, Isherwood hosted a local petroglyph field trip where the Kinapiyaks were encouraged to invite native high school students from the community. She has also launched a speaker series called Wabanaki Voices, which offers members and allies of the Wabanaki community the chance to speak and engage with the UMaine Machias community. As part of the series, she hosted a talk with Jennifer Pictou, Founder and Chief Instructor of Dawnland Martial Arts, who discussed how the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women led to the creation of a self-defense called Kinapiskw’k within international Wabanaki communities.

“She was really amazing,” LaComb said. “She was willing to be vulnerable about her experiences as an Indigenous woman. It was just a really powerful thing to experience.

The Kinapiyaks also created a Native American student lounge, where they had the opportunity to design the space and choose the decorations. LaComb said he was even able to put his visual arts skills to work creating signs for the space.

While the space is open to anyone on campus who wishes to respect its significance, many Kinap Mentoring Program events take place in the new lounge. For example, the program held a “lunch and learn” in the student lounge with suicide prevention representatives from Wabanaki Health and Wellness about what it means to be a Kcitpahsuwet, a beacon, in tribal communities. With the hosts, the students braided sweet grass, talked about social and emotional support issues, and discussed other programs they would like to have.

Supporting students in this way is an important part of the program in general. Kinapiyik must meet with a representative from the Wabanaki Center for life coaching sessions every two weeks.

The Kinap mentorship program also comes with a financial incentive. In exchange for their participation in the programs, students receive a stipend of $1,500 per year.

“I think there are so many things competing for student time,” Ranco said. “Some of them have very complicated roles within their families and things they spend time in and maybe don’t bring in money that will be given a lower priority.”

The long-term goal of the Kinap Mentorship Program is to create a group of Native American peer mentors for young Native students throughout the school year. Ranco said they hope to expand the program to the Orono campus this fall.

“I’m so happy with how it’s progressed so far,” Ranco said. “Even one or two students from these impacting communities are important, for sure.”

Isherwood said next year she hopes to recruit students into the program earlier in the year and become more involved with younger students in the community. LaComb also hopes to spend more time in the Indigenous community beyond campus.

“There haven’t been a lot of opportunities yet due to COVID which is understandable, but hopefully once we get away from the ones we have we can get into after school programs and such. “, said LaComb.

Still, LaComb said he would be “100%” participating in the Kinap mentorship program for years to come.

“The program helped me a lot as a freshman to find my place on campus and it also helped me a lot to connect to my culture as an Indigenous student,” LaComb said. “I think it’s going to do it for a lot of other people too.”

Contact: Sam Schipani, [email protected]