I just learned today that Angela Andrew, an Innu artist in what is now Labrador, best known for her crafting of traditional Innu tea dolls, died February 5th at the age of 72. I posted earlier about the Innu tea doll that my friend Wells gave me, which was created by her. I found this article in the CBC News from Canada. I am so glad I learned about her and her tea dolls before she died. The article said she was also instrumental in teaching the Innu-Aimun language to young people, and she had an infectious smile. If you can hear me in the spirit world, Angela, thank you for your beautiful work! her daughters plan to continue making the dolls.
I wanted to study Wabanaki languages with Roger Paul as a way of decolonizing my mind. Yesterday we began the second semester and already I am experiencing two challenges which seem directly related to this very decolonization process.
Wabanaki languages were spoken for thousands of years, and only more recently have been written, usually with the aid of outside linguists who were sent to each tribe and devised writing systems that differed from each other. These writing systems are still in flux. There is an “official” writing system for Passamaquoddy for example, exemplified in the online dictionary, but there are also phonetic systems that spell words more closely based on how they sound. Roger really doesn’t care how we spell the words. He grew up speaking the language, but only learned to write it as an adult. He cares about how we pronounce and speak. So this is a shift from my own ingrained habit of learning more by seeing a word written, than by hearing it spoken. (Though of course, all babies learn to listen and speak before we learn to write. And we do learn to write the words as well.)
The second challenge is that Wabanaki words do not exist as fixed isolated units, but change form in relationship to the context and meaning. In the first semester, we studied lists of words (and a few phrases), beginning to create a basic vocabulary. But in this semester, we will be studying sentences. Words in relationship to each other. And words as sentences–because a sentence might be expressed in one “word.”
As I think about it, I realize how much this may reflect underlying differences between Euro-centric culture and Indigenous culture here on this land. Euro-centric culture is object oriented–taking things apart, categorizing them, defining them. Indigenous culture is relational–nothing exists except in relation to everything else. Likewise, English words are more fixed in form, while Wabanaki words are relational.
Last semester, I gradually created a huge set of flash cards with all the words presented, so I could practice and learn them. I created recorded excerpts of the words and their meanings, so I could listen to them (especially in the car) and get the pronunciations into my head. But now, we are stepping into a different sort of process. The change goes deeper.
Kuskicinuwatu? (or) Gooskeejinuwadoo? (or) Do you speak a Native language?
I am sharing this essay written by Dawn Neptune Adams, as part of her work as Racial and Social Justice Consultant at the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine. Please note the action items included!
(It was falsely reported to FB as “abusive” and is now a censored link. I am copying it here as one more way to amplify Indigenous voices on issues that are vitally important to everyone.)
Indigenous Issues and the Newly-Elected Governor, Janet Mills
By Dawn Neptune Adams, November, 2018
Congratulations! We all survived the midterm elections. Now, where do we go from here? Newly-elected Governor Janet Mills is known for her work in opposition to Indigenous issues during her time as Attorney General. Three of the most pressing issues are presented in the following essay, along with steps in moving forward:
Native Womxn are three times more likely to suffer from violent crimes than any other group of womxn. According to statistics, 80% of these crimes are committed by non-Native men. Mills fought to keep Wabanaki Womxn from protections under the Violence Against Women Act of 2013, stating that our communities are not sovereign but are municipalities and therefore not eligible for the additional safeguards put in place by the Federal Government, for every Federally-recognized tribe in the Nation but those in Maine and Alaska.
Moving forward, an updated version of Legislative bill LD 268 “An Act regarding Penobscot Nation’s and Passamaquoddy Tribes’ Authority to exercise Jurisdiction under Federal Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the Federal Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013” must be introduced and passed. Any attempt on the part of Governor Mills to veto the bill should be met with resistance.
A comment was requested from Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Dana, who answered: “We are committed to working out the kinks in the potential jurisdictional issues that have been barriers in the past. This may mean looking at how the [Maine Indian Land Claims] Settlement Act is being interpreted and used not in the best interest of tribal sovereignty. It is on the radar of the new Governor and we are hopeful we can reach some deeper understanding.”
2. Penobscot Nation vs. Attorney General Janet Mills
The Penobscot River has always been home to the People of the Penobscot Nation. As the Attorney General listed in the lawsuit Penobscot Nation vs. AG Janet Mills, Mills has vociferously defended the State’s opinion that the Water flowing in the Penobscot River surrounding the 200+ islands that make up the Penobscot Nation, was not part of Penobscot Territory. This contradicts Treaties and past interpretations of the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act (MILCSA). The State of Maine and a consortium of 17 Industrial and municipal intervenors, represented by the lobbying firm Pierce Atwood, opposed Penobscot stewardship of the main stem of the River in a manner said by the Federal Government to be in violation of Federal Indian law, and tantamount to an “unlawful territorial taking” of 61 miles of River.
In December of 2015, the U.S. District Court in Portland, Maine, reaffirmed the Tribe’s Treaty-reserved sustenance fishing rights, but decided in favor of the State in redefining the definition of “Tribal Waters.” In the First Circuit Court of Appeals, one of three judges issued a dissenting opinion. Judge Juan Torruella wrote an argument reaffirming the Penobscot territory to include both the land and the water, in which he cited the Treaties of 1796, 1818, and 1833; and legal precedents set in previous agreements which support Tribal stewardship of the River.
Moving forward, the Penobscot Nation has one more level of appeals called an “en banc review” in which the case is heard by a large panel of judges and is usually reserved for complicated or unusual cases. This option is currently being discussed by Tribal leaders. We will need the support of all of our friends and coalitions to keep Industrial interests from framing the narrative in a way that suggests the Penobscot People are trying to exclude anyone from using the River; the Penobscot Nation is simply defending itself against territorial theft and a termination attempt. The River is our Relative and we are determined to protect her health for future generations of ALL the people of Wabanaki Territory.
*Update* January 5, 2019 thanks to Community Water Justice “Jerry Reid was just appointed by Gov Janet Mills to serve as the next Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Anti-water protector. Oppressor of Native people.
Mr. Reid fought in court against the Penobscot Nation to their inherent fishing rights and claimed that the Penobscot River was not part of their reservation. He sided with the water-polluting corporations in the Penobscot Nation vs Mills case. He also absurdly claimed in court that the Penobscots only ever fished from the shoreline and not from the water, as though he had never heard of fishing from a canoe or watercraft.
This appointment tells us clearly where Gov. Mills stands with indigenous people. We who stand for the protection of our water and the Wabanaki demand better in state leadership for the people of Maine.
This appointment will first need approval from the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and if approved there, will move forward for approval by the Senate. Please email members of the Committee (below) AND your Senator to ‘ought not approve’ Mr Reid’s appointment:
Ralph Tucker (D) – (Chair) Ralph.Tucker@legislature.maine.gov
Brownie Carson (D) – Brownie.Carson@legislature.maine.gov
Justin Chenette (D) – Justin.Chenette@legislature.maine.gov
Robert Foley – (R) – Robert.Foley@legislature.maine.gov
Mick Devin (D) – Michael.Devin@legislature.maine.gov
Jessica Fay (D) – Jessica.Fay@legislature.maine.gov
Stanley Paige Ziegler Jr (D) – StanleyPaige.Zeigler@legislature.maine.gov
Lori Gramlich (D) – Lori.Gramlich@legislature.maine.gov
Daniel Hobbs (D) – Daniel.Hobbs@legislature.maine.gov
Richard Campbell (R) – Richard.Campbell@legislature.maine.gov
Peter Lyford (R) – Peter.Lyford@legislature.maine.gov
Thomas Skolfield (R) – Thomas.Skolfield@legislature.maine.gov
Chris Johansen (R) – Chris.Johansen@legislature.maine.gov
Search by town to find your State Senator here:
3. Maine vs. the EPA
Clean water and fish on the dinner table should be a right for all of the people in Wabanaki Territory, now called Maine. In 2014, the State of Maine’s DEP tried unsuccessfully to set water standards so low as to allow only 1.4 ounces of fish from Tribal Waters per day. This equals a portion the size of almost one-half of a deck of playing cards; not even close to the definition of sustenance. The EPA refused these standards, fulfilling the Federal Government’s trust responsibility to uphold Treaty-reserved sustenance fishing rights, and in 2016, insisted on water standards in Tribal Waters that would allow for safe consumption of 10 ounces of fish per day. This resulted in the lawsuit Maine vs. the EPA, in which AG Mills stood with Industrial interests and Gov. LePage in opposition to clean water for all of us. Later, Mills petitioned Trump’s former EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, to withdraw the standards set by his predecessor. The EPA is now poised to rollback these Water quality standards.
At the current time, Scientists from the Penobscot Nation Dept. of Natural Resources recommend NO freshwater fish consumption for Womxn who are pregnant, nursing, or planning to become pregnant; nor for any child under the age of eight. For anyone else, recommended consumption of fish from the Penobscot River is 10 ounces per month.
Moving forward, resistance to this regression in water quality standards is of the utmost importance. Because Penobscot people eat more fish than surrounding populations, the cancer rate is five times higher in our communities than in the communities of our neighbors. Our cultural connection to the River includes eating fish, just as our Ancestors have done since time began here in this beautiful place we now call Maine. Clean water is in the best interest of ALL the people of Maine, and we must make sure that Industrial interests and Trump’s EPA no longer have an ally in the Blaine House nor in the Attorney General’s office, as they did while LePage was Governor.
In all of the issues outlined above, the recurring theme is the question of sovereignty and misinterpretation of the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act. The Act was signed with the understanding that any ambiguities should favor of the Tribe and that the MILCSA never abrogated our Treaty rights. I look forward to standing with you in the protection of our Relatives.
My friend Wells Staley-Mays gave me this Innu Tea Doll, knowing of my love for my distant Innu ancestors. The story is this–when the Innu would travel to the interior of Nitassinan during winter, to hunt the caribou, they had to carry whatever they needed for the journey. Children carried their share by bringing along a doll that was stuffed with tea leaves. When the other stores of tea were depleted, a cut was made in the seam of the doll to remove and use the tea leaves. The doll could be restuffed with grasses or leaves and resown.
I am reminded that the principles we find in permaculture are not new–but were often embedded in the lifeways of Indigenous peoples around the world. One such principle is “stacking functions”–creating elements of our garden (or our lives) that can fulfill more than one function at a time. So the tea doll was both a storage container for tea, and also a toy to delight a child. It also has had a further function more recently, to keep alive traditions of the Innu and serve as a source of income for those who sew them.
This doll was created by Angela Andrew, an Innu elder from the Innu Nation in what is now called Labrador. It is hard to show in photos, but the doll is made of cloth, except her face and moccasins are smoke-tanned caribou skin. Each layer of clothing is distinct and can be taken off and on. She has a flannel shift and long pants, with knitted socks, underneath the broadcloth dress and apron. Her hair is black yarn, and fastened in place with beaded leather ties. Her hat is a traditional Innu head covering. The clothes are tied with little strips of leather, and her mittens are held in place by a long leather string going behind her neck. Does anyone else remember when our mittens were held in place with a long string like that as children?
Wells and I originally met when we were working against hydrodams being built on Cree, Inuit, and Innu territorial rivers. He had the chance to travel into the bush with the Innu on a trip to Canada many years ago. So this doll is full of those memories and good feelings from our work together. Thank you Wells!
I want to repost this excellent article, by Simon Moya-Smith, which you can read by following the link below:
November is Native American Heritage Month, when the U.S. is supposed to celebrate Natives and our contributions to the world. In recognition of the season, let’s start with 100 ways you and yours can be allies toward to the Indigenous peoples of this continent—our ancestral land.
I hope it will be helpful to all of us who want to be allies to Indigenous people.
I have a feeling of glee because I am taking a class at the University of Southern Maine. Well, actually I am auditing it. I discovered that anyone 65 and over can audit classes almost for free (compared to actual tuition costs). I had to pay a $55 “transportation” fee, and then learned that with my student ID (I have a student ID!) I can take the metro bus for free. So many new things, and it reminds me of my excited feelings of going back to school when I was a kid.
But I am especially excited about this class, Wabanaki Languages, taught by Roger Paul, whom I got to know through the Decolonizing Faith project in which I am involved. Roger is really fun and funny and is a native speaker of the language, and a fountain of history and understanding. We’ll be learning “oral history of Wabanaki languages and stories of Wabanaki elders passed from generation to generation,” along with vocabulary and pronunciation and the like.
For those who are not from this area, the Wabanaki peoples are the Indigenous people of Maine, and there are four distinct modern tribal communities, but as Roger tells us, they are not really so distinct. It was Europeans who thought of them as different from each other. The people lived in villages where the food supply would support them (mostly hunting, fishing and gathering) and when the group grew too large for that system, they would start a new village down river or at the next river. So the languages are variations of the same tongue, and the people were identified by the places they lived, or by characteristics of those places.
Most of the students in the class are Wabanaki tribal members learning to speak their own language, as much was lost during the era of boarding schools. Now there are efforts among children and adults to revitalize the language while there are still Native speakers. Roger has been involved in teaching children on the reservation. But why am I interested, as a white person, to learn this language? Years ago, when I was first learning about the challenges that face Indigenous people, I got involved in the issue of cultural appropriation–the theft of Native spiritual practices by non-Native peoples, especially in New Age settings. (See more on that at Wanting to Be Indian.)
I remember one Indigenous writer saying, “If you really want to learn about our spirituality, learn our language.” I’ve learned a lot from Native authors such as Robin Wall Kimmerer talking about some of the key differences between Indigenous language and English. Particularly, Kimmerer speaks about the idea of animacy and inanimacy as embedded in the syntax. Trees, animals, plants, rivers are never referred to as “objects” or as “it” in her language. They are alive, animate. All the verbs and pronouns are organized around whether you are referring to something alive, or inanimate. The language we speak affects how we think about our world. The English language has colonized this place, made the land and water and creatures into “its.”
I want to learn Wabanaki Languages to better understand Wabanaki people and culture, and this place in which I live, the language native to this place. I want to help decolonize my mind, and learn to think in a new way.
I sent a letter today responding to a Portland Press Herald Maine Voices column about Central Maine Power’s push for transmission lines through Maine to bring Canadian hydro power to Massachusetts. I agree with the column, by the way, but an issue that troubles me is the statement often repeated in the Press Herald that Canadian hydropower is clean renewable energy. Large scale hydropower cannot truly be considered clean and renewable energy.
First of all, large scale hydro floods huge areas of the best land in the northern climate—river valleys that are home to the most diverse plant and animal life in the region. The resulting reservoirs are not the same as natural rivers or lakes. They become contaminated with methyl-mercury, poisoning the fish and any who eat them. Methane gas is emitted from the decomposition of flooded plant life. And because of silt build up, the dams may not last more than several decades.
Secondly, these dams are being built in the territories of indigenous Cree, Innu, and Inuit peoples, with a destructive effect on their culture, lifestyle, food sources, hunting and fishing, burial sites, and ultimately, their sovereignty. The LaGrande project was built in the 1970s without any consultation with the Cree or Inuit, and then later projects have been and still are initiated without giving any true choice to the people who have lived along these rivers for millenia.We know that Maine Governor LePage is not interested in renewable energy, nor is he concerned with the rights and sovereignty of indigenous peoples, as witnessed in this government’s actions toward the Penobscot people and their river. But the rest of us who live in Maine must be better than that. We should support true renewable energy, and also support the human rights of indigenous people both here and in the lands to the north.