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  • Penobscot Nation's fight for namesake river

    The Penobscot Nation is an Indian tribe that has occupied and cared for the Penobscot River since time immemorial. Our principal community and the seat of our government, Panawanskek, is situated in the river about 10 miles north of Bangor and is known also as Indian Island. The name of our tribe, Pa’nawampske’wiak, translated as “people of where the river broadens out,” references the rich fishing grounds near Indian Island that sustained us for thousands of years.

    Our creation stories illustrate the special relationship we have always shared with the river. It is the foundation of our clan system.

    For decades, dams and water pollution have threatened the fish, eel, muskrat, duck, turtle and other river-borne food sources upon which Penobscot people historically relied. Valuable medicinal plants, such as flagroot, which grows on the bottom of the river, are similarly vulnerable.

    But there is good news. The Penobscot Nation has joined forces with federal agencies, the state of Maine and nonprofit organizations to restore the health of the river and the resources that sustain Penobscot people. After more than 200 years of suffering from harms that beset the majority of Indian tribes in this country — poverty, discrimination and the loss of language and traditions that define our unique culture — Penobscots are again able to stand up for themselves and the river that shares their name.

    Inflammatory accusations of “secret pacts,” detailed by Matt Manahan in his Aug. 6 OpEd in the Bangor Daily News, serve only to undermine the peaceful coexistence between the tribe and the residents of Maine and awaken the “us versus them” mentality long discarded by the majority of Mainers who are proud to know the Penobscot Nation once again has a voice on the river.

    It’s worth looking at history before blindly accepting attempts to conjure old fears of “Indian motives,” with respect to the current court case.

    In 1972, the United States filed United States v. Maine to compensate the tribe for the loss of lands and natural resources taken by the state under illegal treaties. “By virtue of [these] wrongful actions,” the complaint said, Maine “has interfered with the hunting, fishing, and trapping rights of the [Penobscot] Nation, which rights are of great religious significance to the Nation causing great spiritual and economic damage to the Nation and its members.”

    In 1980, Congress settled these claims and in so doing made a solemn promise to the Penobscot Nation that its “subsistence hunting and fishing rights” were secure. “Prior to the settlement,” Congress said, “Maine claimed the right to alter or terminate these rights at any time.” Henceforth, the Penobscot Nation would have “the permanent right to control” those activities. “The power of the State of Maine to alter such rights without the consent of the [Tribe] is ended.”

    Will the results be catastrophic if this promise is vindicated? Of course not.

    In fact, in the first 20 years after the land claims settlement, there was a broad consensus among the parties — the United States, Maine and the Penobscot Nation — that the tribe’s sustenance fishing right exists in the Penobscot River. It was only when the tribe, supported by federal agencies such as the EPA, asserted its right to a healthy river to maintain its sustenance fishery that it received a heavy-handed response from some who claim the tribe cannot be trusted.

    Several corporations with waste discharge pipes that empty into the Penobscot River have been persuaded that their and the tribe’s interests in the river are mutually exclusive. And their lawyers advocate a very radical position, one that would sever the tribe from the river forever. They claim the tribe has no sustenance fishing right in the river, that its reservation is strictly confined to islands, where there are no fish.

    It’s unfortunate that, in recent years, these lawyers have apparently persuaded the Maine attorney general’s office to abandon its own views about the Penobscot Nation’s reservation fishery in the river.

    On Aug. 9, 2012, Maine Attorney General William Schneider wrote to Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis to announce a newly minted opinion that the Penobscot Nation’s reservation does not include the river. This view, if accepted, would result in the termination of the tribe’s sustenance fishing right, contrary to the promise made by Congress to the Penobscot Nation when it settled United States v. Maine.

    Why wouldn’t the Penobscot people go back to court to have that promise affirmed? Why wouldn’t the federal government, which brought the original lawsuit and supported the original settlement, support the Penobscot Nation in its effort?

    We are in court today to ensure that the promises made to the Penobscot Nation by Congress are upheld. These promises recognize our ancient ties to the river and confirm our sustenance fishing right.

    Mark Chavaree is a member of the Penobscot Nation and serves as the tribe’s General Counsel. He grew up on Indian Island and resides there with his family.

  • In Maine white settlers lied and stole from Indians and authorities authorized their massacre

    A local High School in Skhoweghan has been asked by local tribes not to use the name Indian or symbol as a mascot. But certian residents refuse to respect the heritage they are usurping. The following is an editorial that sheds a light on how White settlers treated the native population. Seems history repeats in strange ways. All this has happened while Gov. LePage has taken away Indian sovrenity. (in another Maine Insights article)

    Editorial:

    “I was born in a small Maine town [Skowhegan] on the Kennebec River — a place that had once been home to the Norridgewock Abenaki,” Morrison wrote. “Among my earliest recollections are family excursions … to Old Point Cemetery where my immigrant ancestors rest in what had once been the fields of Norridgewock. A weathered stone obelisk … commemorates the ancient importance of this place.”

    These childhood memories provoked a lifelong effort to understand Native Americans on their own terms.

    Morrison’s portrait of the Wabanaki differed from historians who drew only upon deeply biased English and French sources. Louise Coburn, for example, wrote in “Skowhegan on the Kennebec” that “Under the Indians the land knew neither government nor ownership. There was no law of the land, only chieftainship of the tribe.”

    Actually, Native politics were so different that colonial authorities mistook them for anarchy.

    Despite persistent efforts by Massachusetts authorities to equate “chieftainship” with kingship, the role of the sagamores was to seek consensus in tribal affairs; they could persuade but not command. They had no authority to make treaties selling commonly held lands, but Massachusetts officials refused to accept this limitation.

    Notwithstanding repeated attempts to subject Kennebecs to colonial authority, the tribe never surrendered its autonomy or right to repel white-settler incursions. Religious prejudice and cultural misunderstanding provoked conflict. Although Natives initially did not understand that the English sought exclusive use of the land, they soon learned otherwise. Colonial authorities adamantly enforced any Indian “deed,” whether obtained with unauthorized signatures, abuse of alcohol, bribery, intimidation or mistranslation of treaties.

    Persistent English lawlessness on the frontier complicated the problem. Government control was weak, and assaults on Natives unrestrained. When the tribes resisted, colonial authorities, ignoring settler aggression, struck back harshly. The ruling ethic — “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” — sprang from Puritan belief that Natives were “spawn of Satan.”

    With their preliterate respect for the spoken word, the Wabanaki were deeply dismayed by English manipulation, untruthfulness and dishonor. They challenged falsifications with, “We are not liars like you,” but their protests only fanned hostility.

    By 1724, according to Morrison, the Kennebecs were doomed. Massachusetts authorities decided to wipe them out. Supposing that the Kennebecs’ missionary priest, French Jesuit Father Sébastien Râle, was the source of Native resistance, they placed a 100-pound bounty on his head, with lesser amounts offered for the scalps of men, women and children in his flock.

    A force of English soldiers sneaked up the river and struck Norridgewock by surprise on Aug. 23, 1724. The soldiers pursued mothers and their babies to bloody death. They shot at families fleeing in canoes and lamented that 50 bodies floated downstream before they could be scalped. The attackers obscenely mutilated Father Râle’s body and later paraded his scalp in triumph through the streets of Boston.

    Morrison concluded that the assault by marauders on “Norridgewock represents passionately contested ideals, political infamy and the enduring hatred of religious fervor. … They left Norridgewock a smoldering ruin, its people killed or dispersed, and its old French priest dead among his people.” In the aftermath, settlers flooded up the fertile Kennebec Valley.

    Inextricably linked to his search for truth and justice was Morrison’s embrace of the existential philosophy of Martin Buber.

    Buber maintained that humans see fellow beings in two types of relationships: “I-It” or “I-Thou.” In the first, we perceive the others to be dehumanized and impersonal. In the second, we recognize their sacredness. Human life finds its meaning in these deeper “I-Thou” encounters, leading ultimately to God, the Eternal Thou.

    According to Morrison, the merciless slaughter of 80 men, women and children was the worst kind of “I-It” encounter. So-called civilized Englishmen could murder babies only by denying the humanity of the helpless infants.

    Skowhegan High School’s Indian mascot focuses on such a narrow sliver of Wabanaki reality that it cannot be anything but caricature. Its use to intimidate opposing high school teams perpetuates long-held racist stereotypes and ignores the tragic fate of those allegedly honored. Maine’s Native Americans understandably are offended.

    Sadly for the adherents of the mascot, Skowhegan’s Indian heritage is inextricably bound up with cold-blooded genocide at Norridgewock. Like the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor or the massacre at Wounded Knee, Aug. 23, 1724, is a day that will live in infamy.

    Richard Hunt is a retired history professor. He worked with Ken Morrison in graduate school at the University of Maine and on the Maine Indian land claims case in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

  • Maine Humanities Council honors Passamaquoddy Tribal Historian

    This month, Passamaquoddy Tribal Historian Donald Soctomah will receive the 2015 Constance H. Carlson Public Humanities Prize from the Maine Humanities Council.

    William ‘Bro’ Adams, Chairman of the National Endowment for Humanities and former president of Colby College, will be on hand to honor Soctomah at the prize luncheon in Bangor on March 30th. The luncheon will also feature recorded comments from Senator Angus King and a letter from Senator Susan Collins in appreciation of Soctomah’s contributions to the state of Maine. Those contributions are vast.

    Soctomah, a 59-year-old Passamaquoddy historian, has worked tirelessly to preserve and share native culture and lands through resource management, policy-making, teaching, and the promotion and dissemination of history and language. Thanks to his efforts during eight years in the Maine State Legislature, Maine K-12 students learn about Maine Native American history in school, and Maine place names now show cultural awareness and sensitivity toward the state’s native populations.

    “The prize is given in recognition and appreciation of individuals or organizations who have made extraordinary contributions to the state through the humanities,” MHC Executive Director Hayden Anderson said. He credits Soctomah’s work with a change in Maine, a state where Native presence is often unrecognized or ignored. “A lot of the work Donald has done raises the profile and introduces people to this important part of history. The state of Maine is richer and more historically aware because of the work he’s been doing for years.”

    Soctomah is the sixth person to receive the Constance H. Carlson Prize since its creation in 1998. Previous honorees are Joseph Conforti, Neil Rolde, Northeast Historic Film, Billie Gammon, and Tabitha King. For more information and to register for the prize luncheon, visit http://mainehumanities.org/program/constance-h-carlson-prize/

  • Maine tribes to receive Indian Housing Block Grant

     Five Native American Maine tribes receiving an Indian Housing Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They are among 586 Native American tribes in 34 states that were choosen.

    The Penobscot Tribe of Maine is receiving $1,017,198, the Aroostook Band of Micmac Indians $637,092, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians $537,829, the Indian Township Passamaquoddy $983,784 and the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Tribe $845,013.

    IHBG funds is based on a formula that considers local needs.

    Eligible activities for the funds include housing development, assistance to housing developed under the Indian Housing Program of the 1937 Housing Act, housing services to eligible families and individuals, housing management services, crime prevention and safety, and model activities that provide creative approaches to solving affordable housing problems.

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