Judge rules Penobscot Nation reservation does not include river’s waters

December 15, 2015 | by Kevin Miller | Portland Press Herald

Link to original article

But U.S. District Judge George Singal clarifies that Penobscot tribal members’ sustenance fishing rights extend throughout the main stem of the Penobscot River.

A federal judge has ruled that the Penobscot Nation's reservation does not extend to the waters of the Penobscot River, but the tribe's members can conduct sustenance fishing on the river's main stem. This is the East Branch.

A federal judge has ruled that the Penobscot Nation’s reservation does not extend to the waters of the Penobscot River, but the tribe’s members can conduct sustenance fishing on the river’s main stem. This is the East Branch. 2014 Press Herald File Photo/Gregory Rec

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Penobscot Nation’s reservation ends at the shoreline of tribal islands, siding with the state in a jurisdictional dispute over the waters of the Penobscot River.

But in a mixed ruling, U.S. District Court Judge George Singal reaffirmed tribal members’ sustenance fishing rights throughout the main stem of the Penobscot.

Singal rejected arguments from the Penobscot Nation and federal agencies that the tribe’s reservation boundaries extend “from bank to bank” of Maine’s second-largest river. Instead, Singal sided with Attorney General Janet Mills in ruling there was “no ambiguity” in the definition of the reservation as laid out in the landmark Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 negotiated between the state, federal government and tribes.

“The Settlement Acts clearly define the Penobscot Indian Reservation to include the delineated islands of the main stem, but do not suggest that any of the waters of the main stem fall within the Penobscot Indian Reservation,” Singal wrote. “That clear statutory language provides no opportunity to suggest that any of the waters of the main stem are also included within the boundaries of the Penobscot Indian Reservation.”

But Singal rejected the state’s interpretation on the fishing issue and, seeking to clarify what he said was ambiguous language, said the tribe has a “retained right to sustenance fish in the main stem, as it had done historically and continuously.” Under the state’s erroneous interpretation, Singal wrote, tribal members would only be allowed to fish from land.

“There is no evidence that the Maine Legislature, Congress, or the Penobscot Nation intended for the Settlement Acts to change and further restrict the already long-accepted practice of Penobscot Nation members sustenance fishing in the main stem, such that tribal members would need to have at minimum one foot on an island and could no longer sustenance fish from boats in the main stem,” Singal said.

This ruling doesn’t address a dispute over water-quality standards in the waterways that pass through tribal lands. A separate lawsuit on that issue that the state filed against the federal government is pending.

Tribal leaders were evaluating the ruling Wednesday evening and plan to “huddle up” with attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice, which helped argue the tribe’s case, to discuss next steps, which could include an appeal.

Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis described the ruling as “a mixed bag.” Francis was gratified Singal upheld the tribe’s sustenance fishing rights “from bank to bank” but disappointed that the judge did not believe those waters are part of the reservation. That is concerning, Francis added, because the tribe needs to understand how to manage a resource that members depend on for sustenance.

“Obviously it’s not the greatest decision for the tribe,” Francis said. “We are trying to understand how the existing statute and the decision fit together.”

Mills said the case, which has been watched closely by American Indian organizations around the country, could have had “potentially enormous” ramifications for river users. While the tribe’s attorneys argued that the case was primarily about sustenance fishing rights, lawyers for the state said Penobscots’ interpretation of their boundaries could allow the tribe to exclude fishermen from the river, charge fees for access or even regulate industrial and municipal discharges into the Penobscot.

“The state respects that federal Judge George Singal has digested thousands of pages of filings by all the parties and intervenors,” Mills’ office said in a statement. “In this very thorough 64-page ruling the judge decided very clearly that the reservation itself does not include the main stem of the Penobscot River. The river is, as the state argued, held in trust for the benefit and use of all. The State is equally pleased that the court recognized the historical right of individual tribal members to engage in sustenance fishing along the river, a right which the state has always accorded and never denied.”

The case stems from a 2012 letter from then-Attorney General William Schneider, although the underlying tensions over tribal jurisdiction and fishing rights date back decades.

Responding to reports that tribal game wardens were stopping and summonsing non-tribal sportsmen on the river, Schneider advised the Maine Warden Service and Maine Marine Patrol that the Penobscot reservation does not include the main stem of the river.

“Like private landowners, the Penobscot Nation may also restrict access to their lands, here islands, as it sees fit,” Schneider wrote. “However, the river itself is not part of the Penobscot Nation’s Reservation, and therefore is not subject to its regulatory authority or proprietary control. The Penobscot River is held in trust by the State for all Maine citizens, and State law, including statutes and regulations governing hunting, are fully applicable there.”

The Penobscot Nation filed suit in federal court 12 days later, claiming that any attempt to enforce state law against tribal members who are sustenance fishing in the river “threatens to violate the federal law right of the Nation’s members to be free from state authority over such activity.”

The case is emblematic of the growing rift between Maine’s tribal governments and the LePage administration as well as ongoing tensions over the 35-year-old settlement agreement. In May, the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe withdrew their representatives to the Maine Legislature and accused the state of attempting to perpetuate a “guardian-to-ward relationship” with the sovereign tribal nations. Mills, meanwhile, is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over water quality standards in waters that pass through tribal areas.

Sunlight Media Collective Releases Documentary on the Battle Over Contested Penobscot River Territory

Indian Island, ME: On Friday, Sunlight Media Collective released


The Penobscot: Ancestral River, Contested Territory,


a documentary film that explores the conflict between the state of Maine and the Penobscot Nation over contested river territory. Spanning from the 1700’s to the present-day legal battle of Penobscot Nation v. Mills, the film illustrates the Penobscots’ centuries-long fight to retain their territory and their inherent, treaty-reserved sustenance fishing rights for future generations. Featuring first-person accounts, the film tells the urgent, inspiring story of a struggle for justice and cultural survival in the face of an astonishingly open abuse of state power.

The documentary release closely follows a meeting between Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis and President Obama, where they discussed the Penobscot Nation v. Mills case. The Penobscot Nation is suing the state of Maine in response to a decision by former Attorney General William Schneider that the Penobscot Indian reservation, which includes more than 200 islands in the Penobscot River, does not include any portion of the water— a decision that amounts to territorial theft by the state. Oral arguments for the case are scheduled for October 14th at the US District Court in Portland, ME.


The case is taking place in the context of a larger state battle over river jurisdiction and water quality standards. In February, the federal EPA ruled that Maine must improve its water quality standards to protect Penobscot sustenance fishing rights. Governor Paul LePage has called the ruling “outrageous” and threatened to relinquish state regulatory responsibilities to the federal EPA if they did not reverse the ruling.


The Penobscot: Ancestral River, Contested Territory chronicles the Penobscot’s struggle to maintain their centuries-long stewardship to ensure a healthy ecosystem for all of Maine, a struggle exemplified by these contemporary legal battles. According to Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis, the Penobscot v. Mills case “is really not about controlling the river system, or controlling individuals within the system. It’s really about our ability to manage a subsistence resource that we have a responsibility for, for multiple generations.”


Funded by Broad Reach Fund of the Maine Community Foundation, The Penobscot: Ancestral River, Contested Territory is available for free on the Sunlight Media Collective website (www.sunlightmediacollective.org), and DVDs are available by order. To schedule a screening, please email sunlightmediacollective@gmail.com.


The Sunlight Media Collective is a collaboration between Penobscot and non-native filmmakers. The film is just one example of an up-swell of activism and work on issues affecting the Wabanaki tribes. In October, Upstander Productions will also release a short documentary entitled First Light, on the recently completed Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


Screenings of The Penobscot: Ancestral River, Contested Territory currently scheduled:

October 21st, Belfast Free Library, Belfast, 6:00PM

October 24th, Gates Auditorium, College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, 1:30PM


For more information, contact sunlightmediacollective@gmail.com.




By Maria Girouard – Penobscot historian.

canoe on penobscot, JfR

Panawapskewi (“Penobscot people”) are the indigenous people of this territory, and have nurtured a relationship with and maintained a presence on the Penobscot River for thousands of years. We are an ancient riverine people who have survived enormous losses as a result of colonization – displacement of our ancestors, destruction of our fisheries, degradation of the Water, deforestation of traditional hunting grounds, and disruption in our traditional form of governance.

A Colonial Agreement: In exchange for Penobscot alliance in the revolutionary war, colonial government agreed to protect Penobscot territory from encroachment and to preserve Penobscot aboriginal territory for their perpetual use so that traditional sustenance lifeways could be maintained. (Perpetual: meaning forever, never to be changed). This agreement is recorded in the 1775 Congressional Resolves. Following the war, there was a large war debt.   Abundant Penobscot resources proved too tantalizing to resist.

Treaties were negotiated: Treaties are nation-to-nation agreements negotiated between sovereigns. The Treaty of 1796 and the Treaties of 1818 and 1820, ceded portions of Penobscot territory but the river and the fisheries were never relinquished. Historical records reveal multiple pleas on deaf ears about destruction of the fisheries and decimation of hunting grounds leading to Penobscot starvation.

Treaties were broken: An 1801 petition to colonial government declared, The Penobscots “feel themselves and their Tribe greatly wronged and injured by a Mr. Winslow and his two sons of Portland erecting a sawmill at the Falls in Penobscot … when the government secured to their Tribe and their descendants the aforesaid island with other islands in the Penobscot River with all their natural rights and privileges, the Fishery was esteemed the most important advantage attached to their island and which no individual could deprive them of – they would therefore humbly request your excellent and honor in your wisdom to prevent an Evil so great as would be the total ruin of the tribe.”

In the 1940s, Penobscot Elder Florence Nicola Shay spoke out against the state and broken treaty promises – “The treaties are merely useless pieces of paper today as all promises have been broken… we are a segregated, alienated people and many of us are beginning to feel the weight of the heel that is crushing us to nothingness. We are still in slavery, we are dictated to, and we are made to feel that we do not own our own souls.”

A major turning point in tribal-state history: In the 1970s Penobscot & Passamaquoddy tribes sued the State of Maine for theft of aboriginal territory which had left them displaced and impoverished. The 1794 Trade and Non-Intercourse Act, a federal law aimed at curbing massive land grabs, had been ignored. The law required any and all land transactions with an Indian person or tribe be ratified by Congress. Since Maine had become a state in 1820, no land transactions were ratified; therefore, all were null and void. Following a tumultuous decade riddled with overt racial hostility and fear-mongering played out in the press, the State of Maine, the Penobscot Nation and the Passamaquoddy tribes negotiated a settlement agreement resulting in the federal 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act. The Settlement Act was intended to stop the further taking of Indian Territory and to strengthen tribal sovereignty and tribal-state relations, but like all agreements that preceded it, it, too, was broken and little was settled.

Territorial takings are not a thing of the past: In August 2012, Penobscot Chief and Council received a letter from state government asserting an Attorney General’s opinion – that the Penobscot Indian Reservation did not include any portion of their ancestral River. An opinion with which Penobscot Nation could never agree. Interestingly, this new opinion was contrary to a previous Attorney General’s opinion (AG James Tierney, 1988) which stated that the Penobscot River was reservation territory (?!)

Penobscot Nation v. Mills, is a current U.S. district court case to protect Penobscot fishing rights. It has a large cast of characters! The Penobscot Nation, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, the United States Department of Justice, and 17 intervening towns and industries up and down the River. Until recently, the case had 18 interveners, but on April 1, 2015, in an amazing act of humanity, the Town of Orono filed a motion to withdraw from the case. After deliberation, their town council admitted to knowing very little about how they got involved; they concluded that their participation was unnecessary, and decided that they did not wish to be in contentious litigation against the Penobscots. The remaining interveners are: the City of Brewer, Town of Bucksport, Covanta Maine, LLC, Town of East Millinocket, Great Northern Paper Company, LLC, Guilford-Sangerville Sanitary District, Town of Howland, Kruger Energy (USA) Inc., Town of Lincoln, Lincoln Pulp and Tissue LLC, Lincoln Sanitary District, Town of Mattawamkeag, Town of Millinocket, Red Shield Acquisition LLC, True Textiles, Inc., Veazie Sewer District, and Verso Paper Corp. Led by Pierce Atwood attorney, Matt Manahan, these interveners are asking a judge to determine that the Penobscot reservation does not include any portion of the Water. The U.S. Department of Justice intervened on behalf of the Penobscots, viewing this as an attempted territorial taking by the State of Maine which they have a duty to protect against.

Confusing an already complex issue: Happening alongside Penobscot Nation v Mills, is a battle between the State and the federal Environmental Protection Agency over water quality in Indian Territory. Last summer, the State of Maine sued the EPA demanding jurisdiction over water quality in Indian Territory. In February 2015, the EPA agreed that according to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, the State of Maine did in fact have jurisdiction over water quality, but since Penobscots retained an inherent right to sustenance fish, the water quality in their reservation had to be sufficient to safely consume fish. The State has again sued the EPA and stated that they have no intention of complying with the order to clean up the Penobscot.

Gaining Support: Penobscot Nation has gained thousands of allies but could use more! This case has gained the interest and support of numerous social justice and environmental organizations who agree that Maine must cease and desist its aggression. Maine priorities should be elsewhere – not in continued territorial takings and suing for the right to pollute. Together, we are writing our Grandchildren’s history (and protecting their Drink). Let’s make it a history that will make both them and the ancestors proud!

Let your voices be heard: Call on our state to stop its hostilities and respect tribal fishing rights.

  • Attorney General Janet T. Mills, 6 State House Station, Augusta, Maine 04333
  • Governor Paul LePage, Office of the Governor, #1 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333
  • Find (and write!) your legislators at http://legislature.maine.gov/





“The Penobscots believe that the God of Nature gave them their fisheries, and no man alive has the right to take that away from them…” (historical petition to Massachusetts Colonial Government)

Maine to sue EPA over tribal water pollution decision

Link to Original Article

The state contests the agency’s authority to order stricter pollution limits to ensure sustenance fishing is safe.

By Colin Woodard Staff Writer | Portland Press Herald

Maine plans to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over a ruling intended to ensure that members of Maine’s Indian tribes can safely eat large quantities of fish for sustenance.

The move, disclosed in a letter this week from Attorney General Janet Mills to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, opens a new front in an escalating, decades-long power struggle between the state and tribes over the latter’s rights and authority under the 1980 Settlement Acts, the federally brokered compromise agreement that extinguished the tribe’s claim to two-thirds of the state.


Chief Kirk Francis of the Penobscot Nation.

Chief Kirk Francis of the Penobscot Nation.

In Tuesday’s letter, Mills charged that the EPA has acted unlawfully, usurping Maine’s regulatory powers in violation of federal law and court rulings. She advised the agency that she was giving 60-day notice of her intention to sue.

The Penobscot Nation expressed concern with the move. “While not surprising, it is disappointing that we can’t get the state to recognize or acknowledge our sustenance fishing right,” said the tribe’s chief, Kirk Francis. “We have a right to clean water so that sustenance fishing is conducive to the health of our people.”

The dispute is over the LePage administration’s proposed water quality standards, which are subject to review by the federal agency. The EPA informed state authorities on Feb. 2 that their proposed standards are inadequate to protect sustenance fishermen on the reservations from certain toxins, because they eat much greater volumes of fish than the average Mainer.

The agency, acting in consultation with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Department of Justice, asserted such fishing rights were granted to the tribes under the Settlement Acts. It ordered the state to come up with more restrictive standards for certain toxins in Indian waters within 90 days. The EPA ruling did not suggest eating fish from the state’s waters is unsafe for most Mainers.

Gov. Paul LePage subsequently blasted the EPA decision, calling it “outrageous” and an act of “retribution” against the state Department of Environmental Protection for having previously crossed the agency. The DEP won a 2007 federal appeals court case that confirmed the state’s authority to establish environmental regulations on Indian lands and in July 2014 filed another suit to force the agency to honor that decision.


In her letter, Mills said the Settlement Act only permits “certain Maine tribes to take fish without restriction within their reservations provided that such fish takings are for individual sustenance only” and does not provide a tribal right to sustenance fish.

Penobscot Chief Francis said the tribes, not the state, are trying to properly enforce the Settlement Acts. “It’s very clear that there is no acknowledgment at all of the rights of the tribe to fish and for those fish to be conducive to eating,” he said. “It’s very clear this is about wiping that out for the tribes, not about promulgating water standards.”

In a statement, the EPA said it was committed to upholding both the Clean Water Act and the Settlement Acts in Maine. “EPA must ensure that water quality standards in Maine protect the health and environment for all populations, including the Indian tribes in Maine who practice sustenance fishing as provided for by the Indian Settlement Acts,” the agency said, adding that it and the Department of Justice would respond to the state’s allegations in detail if a suit is filed.

The Department of Environmental Protection did not respond to interview requests, and the Attorney General’s Office declined to comment.

The EPA on Monday rejected other proposed state water pollution standards in Indian territory, including ammonia and arsenic. The agency also rejected a DEP proposal to downgrade the water quality target standard for a 0.3-mile section of Long Creek in Westbrook.

The EPA rulings on tribal waters, which could substantially tighten water standards in certain sections of the Penobscot and St. Croix rivers and other water bodies, have alarmed paper companies and riverside municipalities, which fear they may result in added pollution control expenses.

Maine’s largest tribes, the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe, are already locked in disputes with the state over saltwater fishing rights, tribal jurisdiction over domestic violence cases by non-Indians on their reservations, and land use regulation on the tribe’s extensive, off-reservation trust lands. The Penobscot Nation have sued Mills in federal court over the state’s assertion that the tribe has no special rights in the main stem of the river that bears its name.


Orono panel endorses withdrawal from Penobscot Nation water rights lawsuit

Orono resident and Penobscot Indian Nation member Maria Girouard speaks to the Orono Community Development Committee about withdrawing from a lawsuit the Penobscot have against the state over tribal waters. &quotI have a sense you don't really understand the severity of the decision," she told council members. &quotI’'ve spent the good part of a year or so [educating people] and nobody has any idea that the state government is in this fight with the Penobscot Nation." At the end of the meeting, the committee voted to recommend to the full council that they withdraw from the lawsuit.
Nok-Noi Ricker | BDN
Orono resident and Penobscot Indian Nation member Maria Girouard speaks to the Orono Community Development Committee about withdrawing from a lawsuit the Penobscot have against the state over tribal waters. “I have a sense you don’t really understand the severity of the decision,” she told council members. “I’’ve spent the good part of a year or so [educating people] and nobody has any idea that the state government is in this fight with the Penobscot Nation.” At the end of the meeting, the committee voted to recommend to the full council that they withdraw from the lawsuit. Buy Photo
Posted March 16, 2015, at 8:58 p.m.
Last modified March 17, 2015, at 12:26 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Local resident John Banks, who is also a member of the Penobscot Indian Nation, told the town’s Community Development Committee on Monday that his tribe has been promised fishing privileges over and over by different governments, including the Colonial government of Massachusetts before Maine was even a state.

He said in 1775, Massachusetts leaders “asked my tribe to join the calling” during the American Revolution and that “our tribal chief at that time was named Orono.” In exchange for fighting the British the Penobscots were promised “our lands and our fishing privileges within our waters would be protected in perpetuation,” Banks said.

“It’s really hard for me, in 2015, to be fighting the same battle,” he said. “This is all about our fishing rights, which are located above the town of Orono.”

The Penobscot Nation in 2012 sued the state in federal court over the state’s interpretation of whether the tribe’s jurisdictional authority applies to parts of the river that abut tribal islands in the river. Orono is one of 18 municipalities and other entities with discharge permits into the river who have an interest in its water quality standards and are listed as intervenors in the suit.

Before Banks spoke, about a dozen others asked the town to withdraw from the lawsuit as a sign of support for the Penobscot Nation. After hearing from residents, Orono’s Community Development Committee voted unanimously to recommend to the full town council that Orono withdraw from the lawsuit.

Many of the 35 people at Monday’s meeting applauded their decision.

After reviewing all the materials, Councilor Mark Haggerty said: “The conclusion I came to is that we should not be interveners. I’m going to hope things work out and we’re not going to see additional cost with our [future] waste water discharges.”

The 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act provided the Penobscots with subsistence hunting and fishing rights for all sections of the Penobscot River from the Milford Dam to Millinocket. The tribe’s lawsuit against the state was filed in 2012 after then-Attorney General William Schneider issued an opinion that the Penobscots’ territory was limited to islands in the river and does not extend to the river itself.

While the Penobscot Nation lawsuit works it’s way through the system, on Feb. 2 the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a decision, which some have described as “unprecedented,” that reaffirmed the state’s authority to establish water quality standards for “waters in Indian lands” and also required that Maine must adopt tighter water standards along the Penobscot River to better protect the sustenance fishing rights of the Penobscot Nation.

The state has 90 days from Feb. 2 decision to address the EPA’s position on increasing standards to protect human health along the Penobscot River, stretching about 70 miles from the Milford Dam up to Millinocket. If the state does not respond within that time, EPA officials said the federal agency “will propose and promulgate appropriate human health criteria for waters in Indian lands in Maine.”

BDN writers Judy Harrison, Chris Cousins and Bill Trotter contributed to this report.



An earlier version of this story said Banks was part of the group that asked the town to withdraw from the lawsuit. Banks made no such statement.

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 


Maine Voices: State should drop lawsuit that would grab river from Penobscot Nation

The Penobscots are an ancient river-based people. Taking away their waterway is cultural theft.

FRYEBURG — In 2012, then-Attorney General William Schneider, on behalf of the state of Maine, initiated a dubious claim against the Penobscot Nation, challenging their rights to the river water on their reservation. The Penobscot were left no choice but to defend their territory through legal channels.

Schneider’s successor, Janet Mills, is continuing the litigation process with the backing of powerful corporate interests, along with the support of some municipalities where these corporations are based. The lawsuit’s intent is clear: to rescind the Penobscots’ inherent rights to the river that bears their name.

The Penobscot people are an ancient riverine culture that has lived in synergy with the river for thousands of years before the disruption of European encroachment. Like other indigenous peoples of the Americas who have been subjected to genocide and conquest, the heritage and culture of the native peoples of Maine need protection and respect, not continued assault.

The Penobscot should be able to live in peace and safety after enduring the multigenerational traumas inflicted upon them. Why are we engaged in such a battle involving our own Maine peoples? Why is the state poised to seize part of the Penobscot reservation, which has always included the river, using our tax dollars?

Attorney General Mills has an opportunity in this case to champion the rights of Maine’s indigenous people. History informs us that the Penobscot territory has been reduced to its current boundaries and negotiated by the state for 195 years.

Their territory was purportedly legally protected: first in 1775, through a resolve passed by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress (Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820); again through the 1796 Treaty with Massachusetts, and, finally, again through the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980.

Then-Attorney General James T. Tierney cited the Indian Claims Settlement Act in 1988, when he issued an opinion that the Penobscot reservation included the water of the Penobscot River and that the tribe was entitled to take fish within the reservation boundaries as long as the fish were used for individual sustenance. It would be in the state’s best interest for Mills to issue an opinion that aligned with Tierney’s, if solely for the purpose of achieving truth and reconciliation.

The state cannot succeed alone in this lawsuit; it must have accomplices. I understand that Bruce Bourque, a senior lecturer in the anthropology department at Bates College, is serving as the state’s expert witness against the Penobscot Nation in the theft of their ancestral river. His deposition aids and emboldens the state in its attempts of another breach of treaty, to further lay claim that the Penobscot have no rights to the river.

Bourque has stirred controversy among his fellow anthropologists and local historians with his “thousand-year theory.” Essentially rewriting Native American history, Bourque hypothesizes that the “red paint people” are a lost tribe that existed thousands of years ago and mysteriously vanished, and that the Penobscot and other tribes of the Wabanaki Confederation (which also includes the Abenaki, Maliseet, Mikmaq and Passamaquoddy peoples) are relatively recent arrivals to the region.

Bourque’s theory puts his own self-interests in sharp focus as it allows the Maine State Museum – where he is curator – to hold on to any artifacts, bones or other relics that are over a thousand years old, on the grounds that they belong to some mysterious, vanished race rather than to Maine’s native tribes.

This is one example of continued oppression that the Wabanaki face. Actions such as this occur as part of a long continuum in the erasure of their inherent rights and cultural narrative, a history and culture that remain under threat of continued ethnocide and colonization. Bourque’s interests appear to be aligned with his position in the state government and not in the preservation and dignity of native peoples.

While Bourque’s actions raise serious questions regarding academic integrity, of greater concern is the willingness of the Maine Attorney General’s Office to use such revisionist history to advance their corporate-backed assault on the heritage, identity, dignity and human rights of our state’s indigenous peoples. Such institutionalized racism has no place in Maine’s reputable state institutions.

I ask others to question the Maine attorney general’s case against the Penobscot and critically examine Bruce Bourque’s conflict of interests. We can all learn from this example of harmful and unnecessary cultural conflict. As citizens, we have a duty and a right to speak out against this lawsuit and the state government’s insistence on instigating this conflict with our tax dollars.

— Special to the Press Herald


Nickie Sekera is a resident of Fryeburg.

Indigenous People in “Maine” are under attack by the State

The indigenous peoples who have lived in what is now called “Maine” for over 10,000 years, are under attack by the State of Maine.  The fishing rights of the Passamaquoddy and the Penobscots, and agreements recognizing the tribes as sovereign nations, are being attacked or denied by lawmakers in the Maine State Legislature, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho.  This is what genocide looks like today.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the land and waters that the tribes use for sustenance, and the foundation of their identities, is still being eyed for various types of development, and polluting discharge.  Briefly, the Passamaquoddy and the State of Maine are at loggerheads because the state refuses to acknowledge the Passamaquoddy’s inherent right to manage their ancient fisheries.  The Penobscot Nation is surrounded by threats, including: a new solid waste facility proposed by MRC to sit on a freshwater aquifer and wetland that is the source of freshwater for the Indian Island reservation, as well as the traditional hunting and fishing grounds for the tribe; the East-West Corridor that threatens to cross the Penobscot River just north of Indian Island; the Old Town Fuel and Fiber mill located South of Indian Island and sits directly on the Penobscot River, which recently requested a change in the air emissions, essentially legalizing the toxic air emissions that they are dumping into the environment; the denial of the Penobscot River as their territory; and the worn out railroad tracks that run right along the East side of the Penobscot River, carrying explosive Baaken Crude oil from North Dakota.  A train derailed last year in Mattawamkeag, miraculously spilling just a few gallons of oil.

In a multi-tiered approach, the State of Maine is refusing to acknowledge the tribes sovereignty, forcing these indigenous people to be wards of the State, which they clearly are not.  Last week, Attorney General Mills and DEP Commissioner Aho sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency for acknowledging the sovereignty of our First Nation’s people, accusing the EPA of not being consistent in its application of the Clean Water Act, and seeking clarity about jurisdiction over Maine’s waters.  There are several articles about this available:




Also last week, the Maine Indian and Tribal State Commission (MITSC) released a report that found that the Maine legislature erred in passing laws on tribal fishing rights that were outside of the State’s jurisdiction.  Here is the report, and here is the article about the release.

When will the genocide of indigenous people end?  We are witnessing the genocide of people, right here, right now.  Please act, however you can!

If you are interested in becoming involved with other people who want to help, please contact the author by emailing: chris(at)defendingwater(dot)net