Indigenous Issues and the Newly-Elected Maine Governor, Janet Mills

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.)

Moving Forward:

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:

1. VAWA

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

Kirk FrancisThe 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:

https://legislature.maine.gov/senat…/find-your-state-senator

#WaterIsLife #ProtectOurWater #HonorTheTreaties #ProtectNativeSovereignty #RespectEachOther #Maine #BeBetter

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.

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Innu Tea Doll

Innu Tea Doll Angela Andrew – Version 2

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.

Innu Doll DetailThis 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!

100 Ways to Support Native People

I want to repost this excellent article, by Simon Moya-Smith, which you can read by following the link below:

100 Ways to Support—Not Appropriate From—Native People

It starts:

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.

Going Back to School

USM IDI 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.

Large scale hydro is not clean energy

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.

photo-hydro-quebec-99-185-7-12

[La Grande 1 Generating Station]

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.

Why I No Longer Support Leonard Peltier

For many years, I supported the campaign to free American Indian activist Leonard Peltier, who had been convicted, many said wrongly, of the death of two federal agents in a shoot out on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  Even Amnesty International signed on to his case.  But after moving to Maine, I learned more about the murder of Annie Mae Pictou Aquash, and I began to have reservations.  I stopped my support, but didn’t really know how to speak about it.

Yesterday, via my friend Sherri Mitchell’s Facebook feed, I started to listen to a live feed of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls that was taking place in Montreal. Denise Pictou Maloney was testifying about the death of her mother Annie Mae.  I listened for an hour and a half, and then after she had completed, I went back to hear what I had missed at the beginning of the tape.

Anna_Mae_Pictou-AquashAnnie Mae was a leader in the American Indian Movement, originally from the Mi’kmaq First Nation at Indian Brook Reserve in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia.  I first learned about Annie Mae in the song by Buffy St. Marie, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”, in which she sang,

My girlfriend Annie Mae talked about uranium
Her head was filled with bullets and her body dumped
The FBI cut off her hands and told us she’d died of exposure

The implication, the narrative, the story so many of us believed for many years, was that she was killed by the FBI.  But in fact, the truth later came out that she was killed by other AIM members.  In 2004 and 2010,  Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham were convicted of her kidnapping and murder.  They also implicated AIM leadership in her death, though no one was ever charged.  You can find out a lot more if you listen to the tape of Denise’s testimony, or even if you look up Annie Mae on Wikipedia.

Hearing the pain in Denise’s voice moved me to want to speak publicly this time.  It feels risky to do so, because, as a white person who tries to be an ally, a co-conspirator, with Indigenous people, I know that I will always know too little about all of this.  I do know that the FBI tried to sow dissension in the ranks of activist movements, especially those of Indigenous people and people of color.  This included planting informants within the movements, and also casting suspicion on dedicated activists to cause others to suspect that they might be informants.  This is one theory about the motive for killing Annie Mae.  Another theory claims she was challenging AIM leaders on their behavior, or that she had heard Leonard brag about killing the agents.  I don’t know the answers to that.

But I want to speak today, despite not knowing all the answers, because I have in the past spoken in support of Leonard Peltier.  Denise talked about how painful it has been for their family, every time there is more public support for Leonard.  So I want to interrupt my own participation in that process, (which most lately has been through my silence), and let my friends and colleagues know that I can no longer support Leonard Peltier’s campaign for release from prison.  And I also want to acknowledge how difficult a journey we make when we intend to be allies or co-conspirators.  We often make mistakes and get it wrong.  But that does not make it less worthwhile to try, to show up for what is right.

What I carry away with me today is sadness and anger.  Sadness and anger for the fall of heroes–the leaders we wanted to be better than they were, because the cause they fought for was so important.  Sadness and anger for the children and family and friends of Annie Mae, who have waited so long for the world to know the real story, and often feel as if their voices are not welcome because the truth interrupts the stories people want to believe.  Sadness and anger that in my ignorance as an outsider, I was drawn in to the narrative, and thus contributed to their sorrow.  Sadness and anger at the insidious complexity of colonization and oppression, and the brokenness within all of us left in its wake.

 

The Old White Pine

White pine familyContinuing my passion of learning about the mature trees in our yard, I found myself drawn to the biggest tree here–a white pine near the southwest corner of our land.  It is among several smaller pines that extend into the undeveloped land near our yard.  I found a resource that helps estimate the age of a tree.  It goes like this:  measure the circumference of the tree at about chest height (54 inches).  Divide by 3.14 (pi) to get the diameter of the trunk.  Multiply that number by the “growth factor” of the tree, which can be found on a chart.  In the case of white pine, the growth factor is five.

So today, I measured its girth as about 102″, which gives a diameter of about 32.5″.  Multiplied by five, the estimate of the tree’s age is 162 years old.  That means it might have begun its life around the year 1856.  I was intrigued by what might have been going on during that time, and discovered some interesting historical facts about our land.  At that time, we were part of Saccarappa–in 1871 Saccarappa divided into Westbrook and Deering, and we were likely part of Deering after that, before Deering was incorporated into Portland.  In 1855, the Evergreen Cemetery was established, just several blocks around the corner from us. In 1854, S.D. Warren bought the mill in Westbrook at Amancongan, which had in ancient days been a Native farm site.

I followed my questions down the internet wormhole, and made some other discoveries. This land first came into the record of English settlers when the sagamore (leader) Skitterygussett signed a deed with the fisherman Francis Small in 1657.  In many historical accounts, they claim Small bought the land “from the marshes and uplands of Capissic” to the fishing falls at Amancongan on the south side of the Presumpscot River. But my new favorite book by Lisa Brooks, Our Beloved Kin, actually talks about this very deed on page 21.

She says that Small pledged an annual “pay” of “one trading coat,” which was a symbolic recognition of Skitterygusset’s leadership, and “one gallon of liquor.”

The exchange of wampum and tobacco, as Small later testified, in this and subsequent agreements, sealed a pledge to share space, creating a negotiated relationship as much as an economic transaction.  He later sold the rights to part of this tract, including a mill privilege at Capissic, to John Phillips, who transferred it to his son-in-law George Munjoy, both of whom had come to Casco from Boston.

Brooks explores the significance of this and other deeds from the perspective of the Indigenous people who contracted them.  In reference to a similar deed, she says:

…these leaders of Cascoak were entrusted with diplomacy. Thus, part of their role  was to create responsible relationships with the newcomers.  With [these agreements], they gave [particular families] permission to live [on these lands,] but negotiated some of the terms of sharing space and required “acknowledgement” of their continuing relationship to and leadership in this place.  As Alice Nash has observed, such “deeds should be read more like proto-treaties” or councils in which rights, land use, and jurisdiction were negotiated, rather “than as simple property transactions.”

While I was looking at a modern day map to place these descriptions, I noticed that the public housing development in our neighborhood is called Sagamore Village–most likely in a (perhaps misguided) recognition of the sagamore who negotiated that first deed about this land.

There were many more complications after that first deed–all of the settlers were gone from the area during 1690 to 1730, because of conflicts with the Indigenous inhabitants.  Later, when people came back or new settlers came, they had disputes on who actually “owned” the land, the heirs of the first deed makers, or the new settlers.  But that is a different story than today’s.

The white pine tree inspired me to explore the history it may have seen, and I found myself drawn much deeper.  I wonder now, was this pine descended from earlier pines that were cut down to send posts for ship’s masts to England?  How many other stories might be hidden in its branches and roots?