Paddlers in canoes and kayaks rallied in a flotilla of support for the Penobscot Indian Nation’s treaty-protected ancestral hunting and fishing rights May 23 on the river that shares the Nation’s name, the Bangor Daily News reported.
More than 60 paddlers gathered on the Penobscot River in Bangor in solidarity with the Penobscot Nation regarding its legal battle with the State of Maine over river jurisdiction, water rights and water quality. Another 70 people stood on the shore carrying signs and handing out leaflets, the report said. Participants also hung banners from the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge that read “Honor Treaties” and “Respect Penobscot Territory.”
The rally was organized by the social and environmental advocacy group SEEDs for Justice, the report said. According to organizer Sara Mosoco, the event was meant to show support for the Penobscot people in their ongoing litigation with the state and attract attention to the issue, the report said.
“They’re trying to maintain sustenance fishing and hunting rights on the Penobscot River, which is part of their sovereign territory,” she said.
Robin Lovrien, who came from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ellsworth to support the Penobscot people, told the Bangor Daily, “Personally, I just object wildly to the government continually taking away the rights of the Indians. Haven’t we learned anything? They were robbed of their lands and rights.”
SEEDs for Justice says they are calling this “Penobscot Summer” and will be holding a series of events to draw attention to river stewardship and clean water, according to WABI-TV.
The activists’ support comes just as the legal battle between the Nation and the state heats up.
As a result of the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (MICSA) and its state companion, the 1980 Maine Implementing Act (MIA), the Penobscot Nation gave up its rights to one-third of the state. The settlement provided cash, hundreds of thousands of acres of land around the state and numerous islands in the “Main Stem” of the Penobscot River north for around 60 miles from Indian Island where the Nation’s government is located and most of its citizens live The MICSA acknowledges the Penobscot people’s aboriginal sustenance hunting and fishing rights for all sections of the Penobscot River from Milford Dam to Millinocket.
But in early August 2012 the state’s attorney general declared that the Nation has jurisdiction and regulatory authority over hunting and fishing only on its reservation islands and not in the Main Stem. Later that month, the Penobscot Nation sued the state over its assertion. A year later the federal government intervened on the Nation’s side and later filed a separate lawsuit against the state.
In February, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency affirmed the Nation’s sustenance fishing rights, noting that its water quality standards surpass the state’s. The EPA told the state it must improve water quality standards in the river to protect the Penobscot people’s sustenance fishing rights. That means towns and businesses with discharge permits upstream of Indian Island might have to spend millions to upgrade their discharge systems within the next five years, the Bangor Daily said.
Eighteen municipalities and others with discharge permits have filed as interveners in the suit to support the state’s case. Leaders in the town of Orono were persuaded by Penobscot members and others to withdraw from the lawsuit in March.
Support for the Penobscot Nation is growing. In an unprecedented action in early May, five member of Congress’ Native American Caucus filed a friend of the court brief supporting the Nation in its treaty rights battle against the state. Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and co-chair of the caucus, said sometimes tribes don’t defend their rights when they should.
“We applaud the Penobscots for going to court to defend their rights,” Cole said. “The battle they’re fighting is not just for themselves. If sovereignty is diminished anywhere it’s diminished everywhere. If any of our tribes have their treaties unilaterally altered without the permission, consent and participation it hurts every single tribe in the country. I’m glad they decided to fight it; the least we can do is express our support.”