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Circle the Wagons!

“Circle the wagons!” Is a term I learned watching the old western movies on TV when I was a kid. It was done to protect the ever-progressing white people who were moving west (to steal Indian land) against those vicious savages. The savages were to be eliminated in any way possible because they were an impediment to white progress. No thought was given to the fact that the Indian people were actual human beings with families and a need to preserve their own way of life.

On May 19th I listened to the Maine legislature’s Judiciary Committee public hearing on four Indian bills:

LD 267 "An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission" and

LD 268 (HP 186) "An Act Regarding the Penobscot Nation's and Passamaquoddy Tribe's Authority To Exercise Jurisdiction under the Federal Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the Federal Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013";

LD 893 (HP 612) "RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to Article X of the Constitution of Maine Regarding the Publication of Maine Indian Treaty Obligations" sponsored by Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians Representative Henry Bear;

LD 1094 (HP 755) "An Act To Improve Tribal-state Relations" sponsored by Representative Matthew Dana

The thought of “Circle the wagons!” came to mind. The committee circled the wagons on every single bill. There was no way any of those Indian bills were going to make it through committee – and even if they did Maine Gov. Paul LePage had promised to veto them. I know this because I was a committee member representing the Penobscot nation for nine years. I know how things work. The awful truth is these committee members see the Tribes as foreigners (A Nation within a Nation) or even just the enemy impeding the State’s progress. They see us this way because they do not know any better. They are trying to do the right thing for the “Common Good.” They were never educated in Tribal State Relations. It is scary because they know nothing about the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement http://www.mitsc.org/documents/34_FedSettAct1980.pdf and yet they are expected to make policy decisions on that document. It’s like asking a carpenter to do heart surgery!

The sorry fact is that their decisions affect people’s lives and, yes, Indians are people and have lives too! My thoughts went back to the “Circle the wagons!” cry. Two worlds collided back in those times and the Indian world, as we knew it was blown apart like glass shattering. I wondered if these committee members knew anything of the Tribes’ contributions to this state and our country.

The years of loyalty the Tribes have given them are extraordinary in and of itself.

A great man once wrote:

“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shore, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it. Our children are still taught to respect the violence which reduced a red-skinned people of an earlier culture into a few fragmented groups herded into impoverished reservations.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

Given the legacy that Dr. King refers to, the sad facts are these:

• Considering the horrific treatment we have endured from the European majority culture over the centuries of genocidal polices we have never lost our love for this land or this country. We have fought in every war this country has been in and fought valiantly! We have fought in the Revolutionary War and in every war since, up to and including present day. Our patriotic record speaks for itself.

• Native American soldiers have fought to protect the rights and freedoms of every United States citizen in this country. We love this country; it is ours and we are one with it. We shed our blood for it and paid the ultimate price many times over. More so than any other race. Don’t you ever forget it! We are United States citizens, we are Maine citizens and yes, and we are Tribal citizens!

We have tried to piece those shards of broken glass back together ever since. It is almost impossible to do when every tool we have is being taken away from us. Maine Tribes are being kept in poverty by the ignorance of our policy makers in Augusta. They don’t seem to want to learn about this relationship except via the Attorney Generals office that has done everything in its power to isolate us from society.

We are not foreigners or exiles in our own land. We are not the enemy.

STOP CIRCLING THE WAGONS! We have earned our citizenship.

Donna Loring is a Penobscot Tribal Elder, a former tribal representative to the Maine State legislature, a former Penobscot Tribal Council member, an author and playwright.