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Wabanaki Public Health wins $5M federal award to expand and renovate healing centers

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Nicole Ogrysko
/
Maine Public
Lisa Sockabasin, co-CEO of Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness, speaks Thursday at the Healing Lodge in Millinocket, where tribal leaders and state officials gathered to celebrate a $5 million federal grant award.

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness is the winner of a $5 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture.

Tribal leaders, state officials and others gathered at the healing lodge in Millinocket on Thursday, National Rural Health Day, to celebrate the award.

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness works with Maine's five Wabanaki communities and applies indigenous healing methods to help those suffering with substance use disorder and other healthcare challenges that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

"With this gift — a very large gift, I must say — [it's] allowing us to realize these healing spaces, to complete our dream, to open our doors to people who need healing," said Lisa Sockabasin, co-CEO of Wabanaki Public and Health Wellness and a Passamaquoddy tribe citizen.

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness leaders say they plan to use the funds to renovate additional recovery homes and expand programs to more people needing substance use disorder treatment.

"With these gifts, having the federal government say, 'You know how to heal, you know how to create, and we're supporting you with this gift,' it seems like a shift that, quite frankly, should have happened a long time ago," Sockabasin said.

The funding, which comes from the American Rescue Plan and USDA's rural healthcare grant program, could be transformational, community members said.

"Being a person in long-term recovery myself, I wholeheartedly understand what it means to have a welcoming community and a welcoming center, just like what Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness is offering in this building," said Peter Jamieson, the Millinocket town manager. "With the right support and the right love, recovery can happen; it's very real."

USDA officials say the grant program is highly competitive, and Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness is the only recipient from Maine for this second round of funding.

Rhiannon Hampson, state director for USDA Rural Development, called the award a "down payment" in supporting the work of Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness.

"There's no way that we can undo 400 years of discrimination and systemic trauma due to colonization," she said. "We're not going to be able to change that in one grant. We're not going to be able to change that in one administration. But we have to start somewhere."