Environment | Opinion

Mark Chavaree: Penobscot Nation fights to save namesake river






The Penobscot River runs through the Penobscot Nation in Maine. Photo by Cheryl Daigle

Mark Chavaree, a member of the Penobscot Nation who serves as the tribe's general counsel, explains why the tribe is defending its right to the Penobscot River:
The Penobscot Nation is an Indian tribe that has occupied and cared for the Penobscot River since time immemorial. Our principal community and the seat of our government, Panawanskek, is situated in the river about 10 miles north of Bangor and is known also as Indian Island. The name of our tribe, Pa’nawampske’wiak, translated as “people of where the river broadens out,” references the rich fishing grounds near Indian Island that sustained us for thousands of years.

Our creation stories illustrate the special relationship we have always shared with the river. It is the foundation of our clan system.

For decades, dams and water pollution have threatened the fish, eel, muskrat, duck, turtle and other river-borne food sources upon which Penobscot people historically relied. Valuable medicinal plants, such as flagroot, which grows on the bottom of the river, are similarly vulnerable.

But there is good news. The Penobscot Nation has joined forces with federal agencies, the state of Maine and nonprofit organizations to restore the health of the river and the resources that sustain Penobscot people. After more than 200 years of suffering from harms that beset the majority of Indian tribes in this country — poverty, discrimination and the loss of language and traditions that define our unique culture — Penobscots are again able to stand up for themselves and the river that shares their name.

Inflammatory accusations of “secret pacts,” detailed by Matt Manahan in his Aug. 6 OpEd in the Bangor Daily News, serve only to undermine the peaceful coexistence between the tribe and the residents of Maine and awaken the “us versus them” mentality long discarded by the majority of Mainers who are proud to know the Penobscot Nation once again has a voice on the river.

Get the Story:
Mark Chavaree: Penobscot Nation suing Maine to fight for namesake river (The Bangor Daily News 8/20)