AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would have allowed Maine’s Native American tribes to open and operate a casino in Washington or Aroostook County died Monday in the Senate by a vote of 18-16.
The Senate’s vote contradicts a 114-26 House vote last Thursday in favor of the bill, which was written by the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. The two chambers of the Legislature are now at odds on the bill, which means it faces more votes but won’t be successful without attracting additional support
The bill, LD 1446, would have allowed a competitive bidding process followed by the development of a casino in Washington or Aroostook county. Bids would have been weighed depending on to what degree they would benefit Maine’s four federally recognized Indian tribes.
Rep. Henry John Bear of the Houlton Band of Maliseets said Monday that given the close Senate vote against it, he is still hopeful that the bill will survive.
That decision was driven by clashes over fishing rights, judicial jurisdiction and environmental conflicts, though the fact that Maine has not allowed the tribes to operate a casino — and benefit from the revenues — has been a sore spot for tribal-state relations for years. In 2014, a group of six gaming bills — three of them which would have benefitted the tribes — were all killed in a single night in the Senate.
The tribes and other casino proponents thought an opening for gaming expansion was created last year with the release of a market study that suggested the state could support one or two more casinos.
“This bill is not a bill that has come out of this legislative session,” said Bear. “This is a bill that has been in the works for decades in a continued effort to try to create jobs in a region that’s the poorest of the state.”
Meanwhile, another casino bill, LD 1280, is still awaiting debate and votes in the House and Senate. As currently written, that bill would allow for a casino in Cumberland or York County.
PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s American Indian tribes want state officials to come to the table for a potentially wide-reaching agreement about the way the tribes harvest commercial fish.
Passamaquoddy legislative Rep. Matthew Dana says members of Maine’s tribes have fished for thousands of years and deserve a bigger role in state decision making. His bill would allow for cooperative management of lucrative marine species such as lobsters, clams and baby eels.
The tribes’ request represents a broadening of an earlier drive by the tribes to get reach agreement with the state about fishing for baby eels. The Passamaquoddies and state regulators clashed last year about a state requirement that tribal elver fishermen be subject to individual quotas. The tribe eventually relented.
Concern over more scrutiny – and possibly a lawsuit – has prompted residents of a town in Maine to rename a private road to something less offensive.
In August, the board of selectman in Wiscasset, Maine voted s 3-1-1 to name a road there “Redskins Drive” after the now-defunct name of the town’s high school. In 2011, the school’s mascot and name were changed to the Wolverines. Recently, property owners of where the road is located submitted a request to rename it “Micmac Drive” to evade further confrontation.
A letter signed by property owners, dated September 23, gave consent to change the road name “to avoid any further conflict or potential lawsuits with the Indian tribes in the state.” They offered Micmac Road as an alternative, The Times Record reported.
Activist and artist Gregg Deal of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe commended the move to change the name, but he questioned the ubiquitous practice of honoring Native Americans by naming streets and cities after them.
“I think it’s a good move to get away from a racial slur for street name, but I still find it disconcerting that they want to gravitate towards something Indian,” he told ICTMN. “It looks like a case of romanticism. Naming a road after a tribe to honor – that seems really strange when you begin to look at the history and relations with the people and even the specific tribes.”
Deal, who advocates for changing the name of the Washington football team, added sovereign nations have the right to decide whether or not they want to be honored in such a manner.
“If the [Micmac] are all about it, I honor their decision and their right to make such decisions for themselves. I do, however, question the constant need to honor indigenous people in weird materialistic and arbitrary ways.”
Regardless that the name “Redskins” is no longer the high school mascot, and given the road’s name is on its way to a change, people in the town of Wiscasset still have affection for the old moniker.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Julie Groleau told ABC-affiliate WMTW. “The word redskin – I know some people may look at it as derogatory but, um, it’s part of the heritage of the United States and it’s like a tribute to Native American Indians. I don’t think of the term as something bad.”
Chief Edward Peter Paul of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs told The Lincoln County News he approves of the name Micmac Drive, according to The Associated Press.
The selectman will consider the name change on Tuesday. Representatives of Wiscasset did not respond for comment.
Penobscot Indian Nation Chief Kirk Francis and former Chief James Sappier, an Elder Council member, have separately asked the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen to rescind a vote allowing a private road to be named Redskin’s Drive.
But if Selectman Bill Barnes has his way, that’s not likely to happen any time soon.
Francis wrote to the Wiscasset selectmen September 4 on behalf of the Penobscot Nation “to express our grave disappointment that you, in your duty as civic leaders, have condoned the perpetuation of the term ‘redskin’ by allowing it to be used as a road name within your town.”
The selectmen of Wiscasset, Maine, population 1,097, voted 3-1 with one abstention on August 21 to approve a resident’s request to name a small, private road Redskin’s Drive. Vice Chairman Ben Rines made the motion, Barnes and Selectmen Tim Merry voted with Rines to approve the motion, Selectman Jefferson Slack abstained and Chairwoman Pam Dunning voted against it.
The offensive word has been a contentious issue in Wiscasset for years. In 2012 after a bitter yearlong battle, the school committee voted 4-1 to change the Wiscasset High School’s mascot from Redskins to Wolverines.
Francis told the selectmen that Nation citizens appreciated sharing their history and perspectives on the use of the Redskins name with the people of Wiscasset during that battle. “We remain grateful for the understanding and good will those leaders demonstrated by changing the name of their mascot. We understand that change is difficult and that people may feel nostalgic about certain aspects of their past, but we cannot quietly accept a sentimentality that hurts our people.”
The word is so offensive to American Indians generally and particularly to Maine’s Wabanaki nations – the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac tribal nations—because it reminds them of a time when they were hunted by settlers and their bodies and scalps sold to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Frances wrote. “The 1755 Spencer Phips Proclamation placed a bounty specifically on my people, the Penobscot, offering payment up to 50 pounds for each man, woman and child. When scalps were brought in for payment, they were referred to as ‘redskins,’” Francis wrote.
He talked about the real harm that derogatory terms like redskins have on Indian communities, eroding children’s self-esteem and contributing to the poorest educational outcomes and the highest suicide rates in the country. “Suicide rates among Native people have risen 65 percent in past ten years. The American Psychological Association called for the elimination of this term in 2005 citing serious negative consequences on the mental health of Indian youth and the Center for American Progress has recently deemed its use a civil rights violation,” Francis wrote.
Any use of the word is “extremely offensive,” the chief wrote, urging the board to overturn its decision. “It is not too late to make this sincere gesture and begin the journey toward deeper understanding and a mutually respectful relationship,” Francis wrote.
Sappier, who served as chief from 1986-1992 and from 2004-2006, told the selectmen that allowing the Redskins name to be used was based on racism or ignorance of the “true history” of the country ‘’where hundreds of villages were completely wiped out due to the small pox epidemic that ravaged through our tribal villages throughout the northeast,” he wrote, adding that the smallpox as deliberately introduced. “Please do change this racist name to one more acceptable [and] appropriate to/for all peoples,” Sappier wrote.
Barnes, the only selectman who could be reached, told ICTMN why he sees nothing wrong with the word in the following interview:
The Penobscot chiefs have asked you to rescind your vote allowing the Redskins name to be used because the word is offensive. Will you do that?
Well, I don’t feel it’s anything bad.
But Indians say the term is bad and offensive.
No, I really don’t feel its offensive.
But you’re not Indian, are you?
Nah, but I think what needs to be done is remember the Indians so they don’t get forgotten because if it hadn’t been for the Indians in this country the white man would have never survived.
The Indians are offended because the word was used to describe the scalping of Indians here in Maine.
I certainly wouldn’t do anything to hurt the Indians, that’s for sure!
Would you ask the board to rescind its vote?
I don’t think I would because I think the Indians need to be remembered and that’s one way to remember them.
But they say it offends them and it hurts their feelings and harms their children.
Well, I have all the respect in the world for them and I think a lot of us have a little Indian blood in us and I can tell you right now there is nothing I would do to hurt the Indians. Like I said, the white man would never have survived and what really bothers me is what the white man did afterwards – put ‘em on reservations and put ‘em places where they thought they wouldn’t exist. But a name? That name shouldn’t bring any harm to the Indian and I have all the respect in the world for the Indian and anything they’ve gotten, they certainly deserve.
But they would like you not to use the name Redskins.
Citizens trying to stop the piping of tar-sands oil through their community wore blue “Clear Skies” shirts at a city council meeting in South Portland, Maine, this week. But they might as well have been wearing boxing gloves. The small city struck a mighty blow against Canadian tar-sands extraction.
“It’s been a long fight,” said resident Andy Jones after a 6-1 city council vote on Monday to approve the Clear Skies Ordinance, which will block the loading of heavy tar-sands bitumen onto tankers at the city’s port.
The measure is intended to stop ExxonMobil and partner companies from bringing Albertan tar-sands oil east through an aging pipeline network to the city’s waterfront. Currently, the pipeline transports conventional oil west from Portland to Canada; the companies want to reverse its flow.
After an intensely debated, year-and-a-half battle, the South Portland City Council on Monday sided with residents like Jones who don’t want their city to end up as a new “international hub” for the export of tar-sands oil.
“The message to the tar sands industry is: ‘Don’t be counting your chickens yet,’” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “There is a pattern of communities saying ‘no’ to the threat of tar-sands oil.”
A clear signal
The ordinance could have global implications. The Canadian government expects the nation’s oil industry to be producing 4 million to 6 million barrels of tar-sands bitumen a day within a few years, and it’s pinning its hopes on somehow getting all that oil to coastal ports, said Richard Kuprewicz, president of Washington-based pipeline safety consulting firm Accufacts Inc. Indeed, a recent report from the International Energy Agency found that the industry needs export pipelines in order for its boom to continue.
South Portland’s move is just the latest setback for plans to pipe the bitumen out to international markets. Another big hurdle is the long delay over the Keystone XL pipeline. And in Canada, pipeline plans have met with opposition from indigenous peoples (known as First Nations), who are taking the lead to stop projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway tar-sands pipeline through British Columbia.
Now, there is a clear signal that communities along the U.S. East Coast will fight tar-sands expansion too.
“Do not under estimate the power of a local government,” said Kuprewicz.
So the city council took up the cause. In December of last year, the council voted to impose a six-month moratorium on shipping tar-sands oil out through its port. Then a council-appointed committee crafted the Clear Skies Ordinance to permanently block tar-sands shipments, which is what the council officially approved this week. The law also changes zoning rules to block the construction of twin smokestacks that would be needed to burn off bitumen-thinning chemicals before the oil could be shipped out.
Over the past few months, concerned residents met in homes and Protect South Portland grew. Meanwhile, the group Energy Citizens, backed by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s largest trade group, ran ads that said “It’s just oil. From Canada.” The oil companies hired a number of lawyers and brought public relations firms on board.
Protect South Portland spokeswoman MJ Ferrier estimates that the grassroots group was outspent by at least 6 to 1.
So how did residents win over Big Oil? “A lot of perseverance and a lot of community engagement,” Voorhees said.
After the vote, supporters of the ordinance went to a local bar, and “we raised our glasses,” Jones told Grist.
But while local activists are celebrating this week’s win, they know “this is not the end,” said Jones.
South Portland Councilor Tom Blake, who’s been a champion of the effort to protect the city from tar sands, said a legal challenge seems imminent, by either Portland Pipe Line Corp., a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, or by the Canadian government. Blake had this message for the oil company and Canadian officials Monday evening: “This ordinance is the will of the people,” he said. “Do not spend millions of dollars and force the city of South Portland to do the same.”
But the oil interests are unlikely to heed his warning.
Tom Hardison, vice president of Portland Pipe Line, told reporters that the city had made a rush decision and bowed to environmental “off-oil extremists.” He added that the zoning changes amounted to a “job-killing ordinance” that prevents the city’s port from adapting to meet the energy needs of North America.
Matthew Manahan, attorney for Portland Pipe Line, told the city council before the vote that its ordinance is “illegal” and “would clearly be preempted by federal and state law.”
“The council is ignoring the law” and “ignoring science,” the lawyer added.
Air and water worries
Like the process of extracting tar-sands oil, the process of transporting it takes a huge toll on the environment. Before the heavy, almost-solid bitumen can be sent through pipelines, it has to be thinned with a concoction of liquid natural gas and other hydrocarbons. And then before it can be loaded onto ships, that concoction has to be burned off. ExxonMobil currently holds permits to build two smokestacks on South Portland’s waterfront that would do the burning.
Ferrier, a retired psychologist and a nun, joined Protect South Portland largely out of concern for what the oil companies’ plans would do to air quality in an area that has already received a “C” for ozone pollution from the American Lung Association. The proposed smokestacks would emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs). “We know there is benzene in it, a known carcinogen,” said Ferrier.
Resident Andrew Parker had similar concerns. “Tonight is about children,” he said at Monday’s city council meeting. “The oil company will put poison in the air, that is a fact.”
For Mayor Gerard Jalbert, who also sits on the city council and voted in support of the ordinance, it came down to concerns about water quality. The risk of water contamination in the case of a spill far outweighed the nebulous claims about job creation.
“When I look at the economic benefit, which no seems to be able to detail, the risk seems to outweigh the benefit,” Jalbert told Grist.
The easternmost 236-mile stretch of pipeline crosses some of the most sensitive ecosystems in Maine, including the Androscoggin River, the pristine Crooked River, and Sebago Lake, which supplies drinking water for 15 percent of the state’s population.
Blake, the council member, is worried that using old pipes to transport heavy bitumen could lead to a spill like the one that happened in Mayflower, Ark., in March 2013, when an ExxonMobil pipeline built in the 1940s ruptured and spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of tar-sands oil.
Saying “no” to tar sands is part of a bigger shift to a greener future in South Portland, Blake added. “Being a community that has been heavily dependent on petroleum, this turns a tide,” the councilor said.
He pointed to a new electric-car charging station at the city’s community center and potential plans to build a solar farm on an old landfill as steps toward a sustainable future. “I think we are starting to walk the talk,” Blake said.
Roger Drouin is a freelance journalist who covers environmental issues. When he’s not reporting or writing, he is out getting almost lost in the woods. He blogs at rogersoutdoorblog.com.
The lucrative fishery for tiny glass eels, or elvers, has led to a clash between the state and Indian tribes over sovereignty and federal fishing regulations. 2012 Reuters file photo
Officials with an American Indian tribe in Maine are resisting an initiative to impose the same restrictions on all elver fishermen, saying a cap on individual catches would force them to abandon tradition by limiting who has access to natural resources.
Members of the Passamaquoddy tribe say a bill to be considered by the House today is against their tribal values because it could prevent some of its fishermen from gaining access to the fishery.
Under the bill, elver fishermen would be subject to the same individual catch limits as other Maine fishermen. But the Passamaquoddy contend the tribe has made numerous other concessions, limiting itself to just one type of gear and agreeing to a decrease in its overall share of the elver harvest.
Passamaquoddy officials say choosing who can fish is cultural, not just a matter of conservation.
“The issue here is who gets to decide tribal culture,” said Fred Moore, the fisheries specialist with the Passamaquoddy who drafted its elver management plan. He said the tribe supported the bill as part of the state’s conservation plan.
The tribe, he said, enacted its own conservation measures years ago, including weekly catch reports from its elver fishermen.
Elvers are baby eels that have ballooned in value in recent years to become the second most valuable fishery in the state behind lobster.
As the state considers the bill, Moore said the tribe would continue to press the state to honor an earlier agreement. That agreement was the result of months of negotiations and had the approval of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission but state officials abandoned it after the attorney general voiced concern it would not be constitutional to apply two sets of rules in the same fishery.
That move also shed doubt on the authority of tribes in regulating marine resources.
The sponsor of the bill says the tribe’s position is understandable.
“The tribes have a valid point,” said Rep. Walter Kumiega, D-Deer Isle, who also co-chairs the joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources. “They have said that they have been treated differently over the years many times and maybe we should take that” into consideration, he said.
Still, Kumiega said, lawmakers would continue to take into account the concerns raised by the attorney general.
Both state and tribal officials have said they would like to avoid the types of disputes that arose last year when the commissioner of the Department of Marine Resource invalidated all Passamaquoddy elver fishing licenses.
The commissioner has said he would take similar steps this year if the tribe did not follow state law.
Also up for auction are artifacts that are said to be from the Battle of the Little Bighorn, where Custer and the 7th Calvary were defeated by Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho forces in June 1876.
Heather Retberg stood on the steps of the Blue Hill, Maine town hall surrounded by 200 people. “We are farmers,” she told the crowd, “who are supported by our friends and our neighbors who know us and trust us, and want to ensure that they maintain access to their chosen food supply.”
Blue Hill is one of a handful of small Maine towns that have been taking bold steps to protect their local food system. In 2011, they passed an ordinance exempting their local farmers and food producers from federal and state licensure requirements when these farmers sell directly to customers.
The federal government has stiffened national food-safety regulations in order to address the health risks associated with industrial-scale farming. Recent widespread recalls of contaminated ground turkey, cantaloupe, eggs, and a host of other foods illustrate the serious problems at hand. These outbreaks have been linked to industrial farms with overcrowded animals and unbalanced ecosystems. The significant distance between industrial farms and consumers creates a lack of accountability and difficulty tracing problems when they arise.
Small-scale farming, however, doesn’t spark the same safety risks. Small farmers who sell their food locally will tell you that the nature of their business, based on face-to face relationships with the people who eat their food, creates a built-in safety protection. They don’t need inspectors to make sure they are following good practices. Keeping their neighbors, families, and long-time customers in good health is an even better incentive. Customers are also more able to witness the farming practices firsthand.
Still, small farmers are being pushed out of business because they are saddled with the financial and bureaucratic burdens of the same regulations as large industrial farms. Heather and her family’s Quill’s End Farm raise grass-fed cows, lambs, pastured pigs, chickens for eggs and meat, turkeys, dairy cows, and goats. The diverse mix is better both for the land and the economic viability of the farm.
Given the scale of their business, building their own chicken processing unit was financially out of the question, so instead they were butchering at a neighboring farm’s USDA-approved unit. When state inspectors told them that USDA regulations didn’t allow them to share this neighbor’s facility, Quill’s End Farm was forced to stop raising and selling chickens altogether.
“I just remember the feeling that if that was happening to us, the same message was being given to all sorts of farmers of our scale and people were just going to give up and stop farming,” said Heather. “My sense, more than anything, was a really daunting realization that, ‘Oh, this is how farms get disappeared.’ And people are so supportive, but then when we disappear, everybody might just kind of shake their heads like, ‘Oh, it must just be really tough to make it farming.’”
So Heather, together with a small group of other farmers and farm patrons in Maine, began crafting the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance, the ﬁrst of its kind in the country. The ordinance exempts direct sales between farmers and customers – at farms, farmstands, and markets, for example – from state and federal licensing and inspections. It allows Heather to sell chicken at her farmstore, and Bob St. Peter, a fellow farmer and organizer, to sell his homemade cookies at the farmers’ market.
In March 2011, the ordinance passed unanimously in the town of Sedgwick, Maine. Three days later it was presented at Heather’s town meeting in Penobscot. “We spent a good while talking about whether to give $3,000 to our local library,” says Heather, “and I was sitting there thinking ‘Whoa, this is a tough crowd.’ But then when the ordinance came up, it was another unanimous vote. It was tremendous.” Other towns in Maine immediately followed suit.
Since then, says Heather, “We’ve heard from people in Tennessee, Texas, California, Virginia… someone in New Zealand. Last year, Vermont passed a food sovereignty resolution with similar language. Over in California they’re working in the direction of an ordinance in Mendocino County. In Arizona they’re beginning to circulate petitions. And this fall we heard that a town in Utah had passed the ordinance.” Over the two years following Sedgwick’s success, more than eight towns in Maine itself have adopted such ordinances.
As of this writing, Maine’s State Department of Agriculture is challenging one of the local ordinances by suing a dairy farmer. Community members are reaching out to friends in surrounding counties and national food justice coalitions, asking them to call in and urge the state to drop the suit. The case has drawn national attention. Meanwhile, organizers from far and wide are watching closely, hoping to launch similar initiatives in their own communities.
In addition to efforts at the local level, farmers and activists are attempting to tackle the government’s one-size-fits-all approach to food safety at the federal level. When US legislators voted to increase Food and Drug Administration inspections and reporting requirements for farms in 2010, more than 150 food groups succeeded in winning an amendment that provides some exemptions for small farmers.
“Foodborne illnesses don’t come from family agriculture,” says Senator Jon Tester from Montana, who co-sponsored the amendment.