The Penobscot Nation’s ongoing lawsuit against the State of Maine has significant ramifications for Bates. Senior Lecturer of Anthropology Bruce Bourque is testifying on behalf of the state in the lawsuit, providing evidence that the Penobscot Nation never had legal claims to the Penobscot River. Recently, Maria Girouard, the Community Organizer with the Penobscot Nation, declined to visit Bates due to her concerns over Bourque’s role in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, first filed by the Penobscot Nation against then-Maine State Attorney General William Schneider in August 2012, argues that the Penobscot Nation should have territorial rights over the Penobscot River. Schneider sent an opinion to the Penobscot Nation stating that the Penobscots’ territory only includes the islands in the river and does not include the river itself.
While the lawsuit does not mention pollution or discharge rights on the Penobscot River, municipalities along the river are worried that a victory by the Penobscot Nation could have a significant impact on their ability to use the river for storm and industrial runoff.
Two weeks ago, the town of Orono withdrew from the lawsuit after arguments were made by the local Penobscot community. Orono was one of 18 municipalities situated along the Penobscot River listed as an intervenor in the suit on the side of the state, since the town discharges waste and runoff into the river. The decision to withdraw from the lawsuit by Orono officials was seen as a victory for the Penobscot Nation.
Recently at Bates, Girouard declined to visit Professor Ethan Miller’s Environmental Studies class out of protest of Bourque’s involvement on behalf of the State of Maine in the lawsuit. Girouard previously co-taught a Short Term class with History Professor Joe Hall. Girouard claims that the state’s lawsuit constitutes theft of the Penobscot River and that Bourque’s involvement is disrespectful of the tribe.
The March 11th edition of The Student contained an article titled “Penobscot Nation stakes claim of river, conflicts with Bates professor.” This article contained factual errors and did not reach out to anyone associated with the Penobscot Nation. Below is an interview with Maria Girouard. An interview with Professor Bruce Bourque will be published online at a later date. Bourque was contacted for this article, but is in the process of cross-checking his responses to the interview with the Attorney General’s Office.
What’s your role with Penobscot Nation and the ongoing lawsuit?
I am Panawapskewi (a Penobscot person – or more literally in our language, I am a person from the rocky place in the River). I’m a citizen of Penobscot Nation, an environmental activist, a peace advocate, and a Penobscot historian. In the past, I served the Nation as director of their Cultural & Historic Preservation Department (2006 – 2011). I also served a 2-year term on Penobscot Tribal Council (2012- 2014).
What connection do you have to Bates?
I have had a long history with Bates. Formerly as the director of Cultural & Historic Preservation department for the Penobscot Nation, I hosted numerous student groups at Penobscot Nation; I forged a great working relationship with Professor Joe Hall; and even had a Bates student work in my department one summer as an intern. Following my tenure as cultural director, I continued to engage with Bates, coming often to be a guest speaker in classes, and I co-taught Wabanaki History with Professor Hall last Spring term.
What do recent developments with the Orono Town Council have on the ongoing lawsuit regarding fishing rights?
Two weeks ago in a unanimous decision, Orono Town Council voted in committee to begin initial steps for withdrawing as interveners in the Penobscot River case. The committee met at the urging of Orono residents who were upset to learn their town was named as one of 18 interveners in litigation against Penobscot Nation their neighbors. Other towns who have been dragged into the case include Bucksport, Brewer, East Millinocket, Millinocket, Howland, Lincoln, and Mattawamkeag.
Several towns have been seduced into joining the case by a fear-mongering attorney infamous for representing polluting industries. All speakers urged the town to withdraw. The council plans to investigate necessary steps for withdrawing and will update on its progress at the next council meeting on Monday, April 6, 2015.
Does the lawsuit aim to radically change the discharge regulations for towns along the river, or is it more important for the Penobscot Nation to gain control over fishing rights?
The original U.S. District Court case, Penobscot Nation v. Mills has nothing to do with regulating discharge. It is in direct response to the state government attempting to redefine the ancient Penobscot Indian reservation. In August 2012, Penobscot Chief and Council received a letter from state government stating that it was the state’s interpretation that the Penobscot reservation, which is comprised of over 200 islands in the Penobscot River, did NOT include the Water! Penobscot Nation placed the issue with a federal court in order to protect our territory. This legal battle is a territorial dispute and a fishing rights dispute.
Recently, another issue has cropped up between the state and the tribes, and it is happening simultaneously, and [it is] confusing (and scaring!) a lot of people. Additionally, this issue involves the federal Environmental Protection Agency. In an effort that has been considered “escalating the battle,” the state has been ordered to take measures to improve water quality on the Penobscot River, so that Penobscots can enjoy their inherent right to sustenance hunt and fish within their reservation territory. Instead of complying with the order, the State of Maine told [the] EPA that they have no intentions of following the order, and in fact, have notified them (the EPA) that the state plans to sue them instead. In essence, Maine is suing, using tax payers dollars, for the right to continue to pollute and poison the Penobscot River! In any case, the state of Maine seems hell-bent on seizing Penobscot waters.
Could you describe your issues with Professor Bruce Bourque’s testimony on behalf of the state of Maine for this lawsuit?
My issue with Bourque providing “expert” testimony is that he is no expert and he has no respect in tribal communities because of his narrow theories and the consequences that they have. His theory regarding the Red Paint People, for example, has allowed the Maine State Museum, where he is curator, to keep ancestral remains and not release them to the tribes for proper re-burial, because he theorizes that the Red Paint People were some mysterious, vanishing race, and that the current Wabanaki only recently moved into this territory. This goes directly against and undermines our traditional cultural teachings. It is considered incredibly disrespectful.
As an anthropologist, it doesn’t seem he would even be qualified to speak about relatively recent history; the fact that he is associated with the State of Maine as a curator in their museum makes me question whether this is a conflict of interest. I sent an email expressing my disappointment to President Spencer, Crystal Williams Chief Diversity Officer, as well as Loring Danforth, [the] Chair of Anthropology, when I learned the news. Of course Bourque was defended based on academic freedom, but to me it’s still shocking what someone can get away with in the name of academia – even committing genocide against indigenous peoples by stealing all that defines their culture… in this case, the Penobscot River away from the Penobscots.
What has led you to decline visiting Bates campus?
Just the fact that he [Bourque] is there makes me literally sick to my stomach. What he is doing to the Penobscots is beyond egregious. I decline visiting Bates because he is there.
What do you want Bates students to know about the case?
That this case is incredibly serious and a major crisis for Penobscot Nation. It is with no exaggeration, a fight for our cultural survival.
Is there anything that can be done to repair relations between Bates and the Penobscot Nation?
I’m not sure, but it certainly is not the primary concern of Penobscot Nation right now. We are currently “in the trenches” defending our territory against state-sponsored theft. Bates is not our concern at the moment.
Do you believe that Professor Bourque is entitled to his opinions regarding Penobscot water rights?
Anyone is entitled to an opinion, but as an educated professional, his words hold extra weight. In my opinion, he is not qualified to speak about Penobscot water rights. It baffles me why he would be considered an “expert witness.”
What would make you reverse your recent decision not to visit Bates?
Unfortunately, I cannot think of anything at this point in time that would cause me to change my mind about not visiting Bates. Although I did just recently receive a very touching email from one of my spring term students that moved me and it was greatly appreciated.