University of Southern Maine pays nearly $10k for mural to affirm school sits on 'Wabanaki Land'

USM tasked recent alumnus and Native American Marissa Joly with designing the mural as a way to acknowledge the campus' allegedly true history.

The school features a Native American land acknowledgement statement that includes a reference to the 'uncomfortable truths of settler colonialism.'

After authorizing $9,750 for the project, the University of Southern Maine has unveiled a mural representing Native American culture that indicates the school and city of Portland are both territory that belongs to the Wabanaki Confederacy. 

Earlier this year, the school accepted artist applications for a new display to commemorate Wabanaki culture in the new McGoldrick Center for Career and Student Success building. One of the three primary reasons offered for the effort included the intention to “acknowledge that the land the building sits upon is Wabanaki Land.” 

[RELATED: ‘This is not our land’: Students pen editorial on ‘dark origins’ of Thanksgiving]

The newly created mural is in accordance with the university’s land acknowledgement statement, which states that USM recognizes “the uncomfortable truths of settler colonialism, among them that the peoples indigenous to this place were often forcibly removed from this place.” It also mentions the “[h]arm from the physical and cultural genocide of Native people here and throughout the land we now call Maine.”

Marissa Joly, a USM alumnus and Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation member won the competition and completed the mural in August.

“I feel immense honor to have been chosen, to be able to put my design up here, to honor my ancestors, and the people of the land, and the future generations to come,” she told the Bangor Daily News.  

Joly’s mural features a swimming purple turtle, intended to symbolize North America. 

“Wabanaki means ‘People of the Dawn,’” Joly also told the Bangor Daily News. “And here, we’re all on Turtle Island. This is a recognition that we’re on Native land.”

“There are a lot of Indigenous people in Portland, but they’re often invisible, even to each other. I want them to know we are here,” she added.

[RELATED: WATCH: Professor defends his controversial land acknowledgment statement after campus-wide backlash]

The use of university land acknowledgment statements has surged in recent years, with Campus Reform reporting numerous instances.

In July 2021, Campus Reform reported that elite schools like Cornell, Yale, Princeton, and MIT all provided land acknowledgment statements to honor Native Americans for alleged past injustices.

In August 2021, Campus Reform covered the University of Illinois Chicago placing floor stickers recognizing the supposedly true owners of the campus’ territory. 

Campus Reform contacted Joly and USM for comment. This story will be updated accordingly.