$10K for Penobscot legal fight

Joanne Shenandoah (center, guitar) performs with her sister and daughter at Justice for the River. Courtesy of Read Brugger

Joanne Shenandoah (center, guitar) performs with her sister and daughter at Justice for the River. Courtesy of Read Brugger.

On Oct. 18, Dawnland Defense, an organization working toward enhancing knowledge and respect of the Penobscot Native American tribe and Wabanaki land, organized a concert and speak-out on Indian Island called Justice for the River. The event aimed to raise money for the Penobscot Nation’s legal defense to protect the Penobscot River and the tribe’s sovereign right to it.

Maria Girouard, a Penobscot community organizer and former director of the Penobscot Nation Cultural and Historic Preservation Department, recently started Dawnland Defense. “I am steeped in historical and cultural knowledge of my people and I am devoted to the protection of this place which my ancestors called home,” Girouard wrote in an e-mail correspondence.

The Penobscot Nation is facing a number of legal and environmental issues. For example, the East-West Corridor, a highway and utility corridor that would connect different parts of New England, is slated to cross the Penobscot River within the Nation’s territory just north of Indian Island. Heidi Brugger is on the Steering Committee for a group called Stop the East-West Corridor and attended the Justice for the River Event on Saturday. Brugger keeps in contact with the Penobscot Nation regarding the status of the project.

While Brugger said the Corridor project has been temporarily put on hold, she said, “It’s pretty obvious that any corridor that’s going to cross Maine to connect with Canada is going to have to cross the Penobscot River. And if that is tribal territory, then the tribe as a sovereign nation does not want to have an industrial corridor crossing their sacred river, then it’s going to be pretty tough for the East-West Corridor to happen.”

Just to the north of Indian Island, Municipal Review Committee Inc., which represents 180 towns in Maine, submitted a proposal for a new landfill in Argyle, Maine. The state Department of Environmental Protection denied the proposal in September. Nearby, another landfill may be expanded. Along the river, crude oil moves to Canadian refineries via old rail lines that pose an environmental risk to the river.

On a larger scale, the Penobscot Nation is in the midst of a legal battle with the State of Maine over their rights to the river. The Penobscot Nation sued the Maine Attorney General and the heads of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Warden Service, requesting an injunction to keep wardens from policing the river and preventing sustenance fishing. The federal government got involved in 2013, and the money raised at the Justice for the River event will help support the Penobscot Nation’s legal defense.

According to Girouard, the mood at the event on Saturday was “joyous.” “So many allies attended and learned about our centuries long clash of cultures between the Penobscots and the state of Maine. They learned about this current legal case, Penobscot Nation v. Mills which is currently awaiting some sort of decision in federal court.”

Brugger said the fundraising event “was so welcoming.” “Everyone who came discussed what a wonderful sense of openness and receptivity there was. The Penobscots were just so warm and ready to have the people who wanted to support them be involved in supporting them.”