Celebration and ceremony

September 27th, 2011 by Cathleen Miller

“Native people have been the invisible population. Yes, we have held a place in the state legislature for almost two hundred years. We have kept our place here simply by being persistent and staying.”  –Donna Loring, from testimony before the Joint Rules Committee, September 26, 2000 (as quoted in her book In the Shadow of the Eagle)


Last week, we celebrated Donna M. Loring’s political and professional accomplishments when she was one of four women selected to receive the Deborah Morton Award from the University of New England. During the awards ceremony, Donna spoke about a renaissance of Wabanaki voices, and about her belief that with the passage of LD 291 (An Act to Require Teaching of Maine Native American History and Culture in Maine’s Schools), Native people in Maine are finding that their voices are now a part of the cultural conversation, that people actually want to listen.

Here at the Collection, we are hoping to nurture and witness this renaissance in the coming years, and are actively collecting the work of Wabanaki women writers and artists.  It is my belief that if we do not value the voices of all people, none of our voices have power.

It was a powerful experience to work on processing the Donna M. Loring papers.  When I began working on this collection last fall, I was still so new to Maine that I didn’t know much about the political issues that affected the state’s residents.  Since the majority of Donna’s papers deal with her service in the state legislature as Penobscot Nation representative, I got an intimate view of the challenges that face the state’s four tribes, and the sometimes ugly relations between the tribes and the state.


Donna’s papers also provide an insider’s view of the legislative process.  While we may think that the work of our government is sophisticated, Donna’s papers contain traces of the communications between legislators–simply notes passed between seats.  As I worked through Donna’s legislative papers, I found myself astounded over and over by the testimony of citizens included in the files about many of the bills–there are heart-wrenching stories and brave exposures of pain in those words.  There is also hatred and misunderstanding.

In addition to the legislative material, which makes up about 9 of the 12 linear feet of the collection, there are also personal mementos of Donna’s life and accomplishments.  She served a one year tour in Vietnam during the TET Offensive (1967-1968).  Here she is at a goodbye party for her commanding officer, who had reached the end of her tour in Vietnam.

After her return from Vietnam, and her graduation from the University of Maine at Orono, Donna attended the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.  See if you can pick her out in this 1978 class photo:

Donna Loring was the first woman police academy graduate to serve as a police chief in Maine.  She served as the Chief of Police for the Penobscot Nation from 1984-1990.  She later worked as head of security at Bowdoin College–the first woman to hold this position.  Loring started her career in the state legislature in 1998, and served as aide de camp for then-Governor Angus King in 1999.  Donna Loring ended her legislative service in 2008.

We will soon have the finding aid for the Donna M. Loring papers posted on our website, but in the meantime, I welcome questions or comments from interested researchers.  We are also preparing a special web exhibit of selections from Donna’s papers.  We expect that to go live sometime in October.  Stay tuned for details soon!