The governor’s recission of the 2011 executive order that had put the state and Maine’s tribes on equal footing is disturbing.
INDIAN ISLAND — I am a Native person. I was born into the Penobscot Nation and the Passamaquoddy Tribe, and take an affirmed pride in my culture and my people.
I have lived in Maine for 29 years and eternally love this state. Until recently, I hadn’t shared many people’s outrage at Gov. LePage and the way he has taken to running it.
I have time and again defended the governor to people who have spoken out against him in my presence, even though I consider myself to be a very liberal-minded person after living in the Portland area for several years.
I defended him because he had done several things to help better the relations between the tribes and the state, including issuing the August 2011 executive order that states “the unique relationship between the State of Maine and the individual Tribes is a relationship between equals.”
The governor’s actions these past few days seem abrupt, like those of an angry child so quick to take away something that was given. The reasoning appears to be because he can’t handle that our nations are trying to push for conditions to be met, and our voices to be heard.
This rescission of the 2011 executive order comes at a very critical time. Maine tribes have just met with the Skowhegan school board to try to convince the people of the town to change the mascot of Skowhegan Area High School. And there’s also the ongoing fight with the Washington National Football League team.
I am proud to be who I am, but alone, without my tribe, I feel vulnerable. I grew up on the Penobscot reservation and was afraid to leave it because of the way I thought I would be treated. Off the reservation from a very young age, I have experienced a considerable amount of racism directed toward myself and my people. Luckily I am light-skinned and am able to assimilate very easily into white society.
I shouldn’t have to. As I travel, if I go to an area where there are no tribes and where people haven’t met a Native person before, if they find out that I am, almost instantly the first question they ask is “How much are you?” This may be because of my lighter skin tone, but I know many darker Natives who have received the same question.
The question isn’t “What tribe are you from?” Instead, they want to know my percentage of Native American blood. I have lived in several states, and as I travel throughout the U.S., this seems to be one of the universal reactions toward me when others realize my race.
At this point, I become a novelty for them. I am suddenly being asked questions I don’t want to answer, things that a normal person would never ask a person of color. But the sad truth is that we are not considered people.
If I travel to a place nearer to reservations I am even more reluctant to be found out, because in most cases there is a hostility toward Native people. In these areas we aren’t a novelty; we are a problem, something to be dealt with – “some thing,” not someone.
In these cases we are not people, we are a nuisance. Like with the Washington football team and many other mascots where Natives are depicted, we lose our humanity. I am so very tired of not feeling like a person, feeling like I am apart from everyone else in this nation.
Native people are uniquely treated, because for most people we either only exist in poorly informed textbooks, or as a small group that needs to be handled. It seems as though there aren’t enough of us to make an impact and have our voices heard.
In a time when people are shouting that black lives matter, we are still shoved aside and told to shut up and deal with things like the rescission of the governor’s order. When will we matter? When will we be considered someone and not some thing?
What the state of Maine needs is to avoid severing this relationship that we have finally been able build. It has taken hundreds of years to be able for us to finally be treated as we should be and only three to be taken away. I don’t think that I can express enough how hurt I feel about this entire situation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carter E. Cates of Indian Island is a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Nation.