What I learned on Sugar Island time


By Joseph Hennessey A common misconception that the general public supports is that teachers and other education officials only work nine or ten months a year. While this may be true in terms of direct classroom instruction, our colleagues most often take courses to maintain their licensure and expand their skills or knowledge base, attend professional conferences to collaborate with other others and keep abreast of policies and best professional practices. practice or undertake educational journeys to remember the beauty and diversity of the world around them.

By Joseph Hennessy

A common mistake that the general public supports is that teachers and other education officials only work nine or ten months a year. While this may be true in terms of direct classroom instruction, our colleagues most often take courses to maintain their licensure and expand their skills or knowledge base, attend professional conferences to collaborate with other others and keep abreast of policies and best professional practices. practice or undertake educational journeys to remember the beauty and diversity of the world around them.

I therefore consider myself exceptionally lucky to have been invited on a trip earlier this summer that met each of the above criteria. Thanks to the generous financial sponsorship of Unum, the generous invitation of my colleague Cindy Soule, Teacher of the Year 2021 in Maine, and the more than generous sharing of time and knowledge by various members of the Penobscot Nation, my cohort and I was able to spend several days canoeing the Penobscot River, exploring tribal lands and waters, learning in various fields from subject matter experts, and contextualizing our learning experience to bring it back in our classrooms in the fall. Most of our trip was on Sugar Island, a beautiful and calm place in the middle of the Penobscot River, and therefore the progression from one learning experience to another was on “Sugar Island Time”, an affectionate reference. how being outdoors filters out white noise.

Photo courtesy of Joseph Hennessey
RIVERFRONT – The Penobscot River on a recent summer day.

While on the river and island, we learned about the traditional way of making birchbark canoes, the archaeological history of the Penobscot and other Wabanaki tribes in Maine and the Canadian Maritimes, the identification and explanation of herbal and natural remedies for diseases found on Sugar Island, and a number of ongoing political and cultural priorities as described by the tribal members present (including, the Wabanaki Repatriation Committee, the Native American Grave Preservation and Repatriation Act, the Smithsonian Exemption, Language Preservation, and Cultural Preservation and Celebration, among others).

The members of the Penobscot Nation have been open, charitable and patient with all my questions and weaknesses and those of my cohort through the light and more serious times (i.e. how should abuse, misunderstandings or historical ambiguities?); To say that the time I was invited to spend on Sugar Island and the Penobscot River was sublime and priceless wouldn’t be a strong enough explanation.

It was a real experience of applied learning in an aspect of our cultural and historical narratives that I hadn’t spent much time in before. It is one thing to learn about Penobscot and the larger Wabanaki history and issues in the abstract and quite another to be deliberately guided by those who know the context themselves. Upon reflection, my experience addressed the questions Professor Rebecca Sockbeson addressed in her 2011 description of Indigenous research methodology: “How can the Waponahki [Wabanaki] ways of knowing (epistemology) and ways of being (ontology) inform politics in Maine? Abstract and contextual studies have their merits in modern education, but context is especially important when dealing with issues of historical tension, betrayal, and irresolution. Yet none of the battles waged individually, between members of the cohort, or between the different identities represented on the trip struck me as hopeless and pragmatically optimistic.

Although my experience with “Sugar Island Time” is probably over (although there are plenty of other people who will take a similar trip in the future), I look forward to what’s next. Maine passed LD 291 in 2001 which required the teaching of Wabanaki studies, then enacted the compulsory study of Native American history in Maine in 2003. The legal mandate for the inclusion of Native education was further strengthened last year, and I am encouraged by the progressive steps that my school district and the Department of Education have responded to.

Beyond the formal study that students will receive in their social studies courses (perhaps abstract, contextual, or both), I will endeavor to remain more aware of where I might be emphasizing on a perspective or experience that is surely more solid in my mind now than it might have been before. Across all disciplines and grade levels, the more well-rounded our students can become, the more successful our state will be.

I remain indebted to my cohort members and the Penobscot Nation for allowing me to participate in the experience and I hope to learn more in the future.

Hennessey is an English teacher at Piscataquis Community High School. He was the 2018 Piscataquis County Teacher of the Year and the 2019 Maine Teacher of the Year.

Thank you for reading your 4 free articles this month. To continue reading and supporting local rural journalism, please subscribe.

Back To Top