LTE: Maine has no grounds to take river from Penobscots

February 23, 2015 | Portland Press Herald | Letter to the Editor

Link to Original Article

Thank you for publishing Nickie Sekera’s column regarding the Penobscots’ fight to retain their authority over the Penobscot River (“Maine Voices: State should drop lawsuit that would grab river from Penobscot Nation,” Feb. 17).

Her column points out a number of problems with the state’s claims to have jurisdiction, and it also notes important flaws in the historical understandings of the state’s expert witness, Bruce Bourque.

Like Professor Bourque, I teach American Indian history at Bates College, and, like him, I respect the rights of my colleagues to hold contrary views. Unlike him, I do not see the grounds for the state’s case.

My reasoning is simple. Every American Indian reservation in the United States consists of aboriginal territory that a tribe did not sell to a state or federal government. The Penobscots never sold the river, and by retaining the islands in its channel, they made very clear that they did not intend to do so.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has earned my respect in the past by refusing to pursue cases that she does not believe to have legal merit. She would do well to follow her own example in this particular case as well. The Penobscots and all Mainers deserve no less.

Joe Hall 


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