Meet the Curators

"Autumn" along the exhibit's imaginary river.

When you visit Wabanaki Guides, you will be witnessing the result of months worth of research and planning. We are grateful for the hard work of the exibit's co-curators:

  • James Eric Francis Sr., Penobscot Nation Director of cultural and Historic Preservation
  • Donald Soctomah, Passamaquoddy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer
  • Raney Bench, Curator of Education, Abbe Museum

To the curators...Thank you!

James Eric Francis Sr., Penobscot Nation Director of Cultural and Historic Preservation

James Eric Francis Sr. is the Director of Cultural and Historic Preservation for the Penobscot Nation. James currently is leading the Penobscot Language Revitalization Project where Penobscot speakers are using modern technology to enhance language learning and preservation efforts. James also serves as the Penobscot Nation's Tribal Historian and is studying the relationship between Maine Native Americans and the landscape. Prior to working at the Penobscot Nation James worked for the Wabanaki Studies Commission helping implement the new Maine Native American Studies Law into Maine schools and has managed a team of teachers and cultural experts in developing curriculum.

James co-produced a film on race relations in Maine. Invisible looks at the problem of racism as it pertains to Native American people in Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. Recently James conducted an extensive Oral History Project for the Penobscot Nation. This project brought to life historical pictures and highlighted a community history that cannot be found it books. He was the curator of Penobscot History in Bangor, Maine, an exhibit for the Bangor Museum and Center for History, and more recently the guest curator of Aunt Lu: the Story of Princess Watahwaso an exhibit at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine.

James is an accomplished historical researcher, photographer, filmmaker, and graphics artist. Mr. Francis serves on the Board of Directors for Four Directions Development Corporation, a Native American Community Development Financial Institution. James serves on the Native American Advisory Council for the Abbe Museum and the Native American Advisory Board for the Boston Children’s Museum and is a lifetime member of the Maine Historical Society.  He has served on the Advisory Board of the University of Maine’s Hudson Museum in Orono, Maine, Board of Directors for the Bangor Museum and Center for History where he served as Chair of the Collections committee. James has also served as Chair of the Penobscot Nation’s Cultural and Historic Preservation Committee. Recently James has returned to school to pursue a Intermedia Masters of Fine Arts degree from the University of Maine.

Donald Soctomah, Passamaquoddy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer

Donald has been involved with the Abbe Museum for well over a decade and has served as curator and advisor for a number of Abbe exhibits.  He served on the Abbe Board of Trustees and was an active participant in the planning for the Abbe’s Campaign to Bring the Abbe to the Community 1998-2001, which resulted in the Abbe’s modern facility in downtown Bar Harbor.

Donald is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Passamaquoddy at Indian Township, a position he has held since 2002.  He is involved with historic and archaeological work and actively works to preserve the culture of the tribe.  He is responsible for creating the interpretation and management plan for the petroglyph site in Machiasport.  His work also includes writing grants to support cultural projects including: recordings of traditional songs, work on the Passamaquoddy dictionary and language portal, producing films and the building of a 20’ birchbark canoe.

Donald worked as the tribal representative to the Maine State legislature from 1998-2002 and from 2006-2010.  Prior to that he served for fifteen years as forest manager for the Passamaquoddy Tribe and was responsible for overseeing 140,000 acres of forest land.  Donald holds a BA in Forest Management from the University of Maine at Orono and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Maine at Machias.  He has written eight books and has appeared in six films.  Currently he is serving on the board of the National Tribal Historic Preservation Office, as well as on the board of Downeast Writers at the University of Maine at Machias.  

Raney Bench, Curator of Education at the Abbe Museum

Raney Bench, Abbe Museum Curator of Education, was born in Minnesota, raised in California, and has been a resident of Southwest Harbor since moving to Maine in 2007 to work at the Abbe. Raney holds a BA in Native American Studies from Humboldt State University, with a minor in Anthropology/Archaeology and a MA in Museum Studies from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Having started her museum career as Director of Collections for the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, VT, she soon found that her interest in federal Indian policy and people kept taking her to the classroom to teach. Raney also taught for the Community College of Vermont for several years. In 1998 she came to Maine for the first time and visited the Abbe Museum. Instantly falling in love, she knew she wanted to work for the Abbe. "It took almost 10 years to do it, but I'm thrilled to be working for this museum. I continue to be active in collections related work through consultation with other museums."