on Micmac and Maliseet
October 3, 2018
First Light Learning Journey members met at the Micmac Cultural, Community and Education Center with chief Charlie Peter Paul; vice chief Richard Silliboy; cultural officer John Dennis; director of education Nicole Francis; director of natural resources Fred Corey.
We were honored by a traditional welcome from John Dennis. Peter introduced our beliefs and our purpose:
- We care about healthy ecosystems and we care and about justice and equity between people.
- We know that all of Maine was once Wabanaki territory and that has decreased to 1 % of what it once was. Our conserved lands have grown to 23% of the state. We are proud of conservation and we recognize how inequitable and unjust land loss has been for the Micmac people and nation.
- We believe we have much to learn for Micmac stewardship of land, and perhaps there are things to be learned from our stewardship.
- We want to collaborate. We want to share land and resources at the speed of trust.
- In the past, our community of conservationists have played a leadership role in the restoration of the Penobscot river, assisted the acquisition of Nibezun through technical assistance, loans and grants; assisted the Passamaquoddy with the acquisition of the petroglyphs through a swap of land.
We gave chief Peter Paul two lamps to symbolize the coming together of worlds and then introduced each person as well as the different roles that land trusts play in Maine.
Our dialogue started around the significance of basket-making in the past and present, and the health of brown ash tree today. For the Micmac, the loss of brown ash to the emerald ash borer affects their identity as a people. Their origin story includes the brown ash. The Micmac were among the first indigenous groups to ally with the colonists and the last to receive their federal recognition, and here Maine is the last frontier in America for healthy brown ash.
We also spoke about the Micmac’s unique status of not being included in the 1980 Settlement Act and now having just 3,000 acres under their stewardship which is “not enough land to support our culture” said chief Peter Paul. He told us, “we want to take care of our own people on our land.”
The priorities for expanding access to land for the Micmac are:
- Access to brown ash for basket-making
- Access to land throughout Maine for medicine harvesting
- Access to land for educational programming for youth
- Access to land and permits for hunting moose, in particular
- Partners who are willing to manage land for old growth white birch
Chief Peter Paul explained that different from the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy, the Micmac don’t have their own permit system for hunting moose. The Micmac are subject to the same hunting laws as other Maine hunters, despite the fact that Micmac people have relied on moose for both a healthy diet and to practice their ways of life. “Let them eat hamburgers at
McDonalds” has resulted in many Wabanaki people having diabetes and other chronic health issues.
The chief asked us, “What is a nation? A nation is land, people and culture. Our inability to harvest brown ash or moose or harvest medicines affects our most basic ability to be a sovereign people.”
The Micmac population in Maine is about 1,400 people with 200 children. Nicole Francis, their education director, told us about the high value they place on engaging their youth in conservation topics as well as traditional Native practices and skills. They would welcome the chance to collaborate with those doing environmental education.
Their Nibezun is a place on their own land called Spruce Haven, which we were fortunate to visit in the afternoon.
After lunch, we took up these 4 questions:
- How do we as a conservation community support the future of ash and basket-making culture in Maine?
Survey our land, where are the remaining stands, how big are they, comment on public policy, share the video of the basket-making in our newsletters. (http://www.folkstreams.net/film-detail.php?id=94)
2. What does conservation in Maine mean in a time of climate change?
3. If the Micmac could acquire any land in close proximity to increase their sovereignty, what would it be?
By water, large parcels, 5,000 acres, Oxbow. We spoke about the Oxbow
property at some length: that it remains a priority acquisition for them and that
they tried to acquire property with grant money but that it had been sold. He
explained that this is the type of station where our members could be extremely
helpful to the Micmac by possibly buying and holding that land until they were
prepared to acquire it
4. How do we keep this relationship going? What’s possible?
Come back for the Micmac Mawiomi of Tribes on August 20-22, 2019
October 4, 2018:
Members of First Light Learning Journey met the following day at Wilderness Pines, a Maliseet -owned lodge, with Chief Sabattis; environmental planer Sharri Venno; with natural resources director Susan Young; and with staff member Christopher Phillipps.
After a greeting from Chief Sabattis, we introduced ourselves in a similar way as the day before and we made a similar gift of two oil lamps.
We then began an open dialogue about their needs and priorities around access to land and water. Early in our meeting, a dialogue began around protecting burial sites of Maliseet on the coastal islands. The chief had been contacted by tribal members who said that secret sites in Hancock county had been vandalized. We spoke at some length about the role of state historical preservation and the designation of critical sites. We expressed that we wanted to build enough trust with each other to be able to share information on where these burial sites are so that we can make a special effort to protect them,
especially those that may be on islands that are stewarded by our organizations.
We learned that the Houlton band of Maliseet, “people of the beautiful river” own approximately 1,400 acres, which includes an area about 1.5 miles outside of downtown Houlton where their tribal offices are, as well as housing for tribal members. These facilities are tightly clustered along the Meduxnekeag River. We learned about how the Maliseet are excellent collaborators with all the communities around them: the international border, with the town of Houlton’s water and police services and with community service in general. For example, the football field which serves both Maliseet and Houlton
communities is on Maliseet land and built by the Maliseet.
Chief Sabattis, Sharri and Sue have a strong vision for acquiring land along the Meduxnekeag River that would connect them by trail to Houlton creating more linkages between these worlds but also helping Maliseet people to have more easy places to get exercise. They are one parcel shy of fulfilling their vision.
Other land and water priorities of the Maliseet are:
- Water quality: buying riparian corridors that help improve water quality for the restoration of salmon. These riparian corridors can also be excellent habitat for brown ash.
- Protecting burial grounds in traditional access areas on the coast of Maine that are now largely inaccessible to them.
- Access to lands for the holding of ceremony.
- Access to hunting and gathering lands.
Like the Micmac, the Maliseet also expressed a very strong interest in collaborating around youth education and development by making access for their community members in our programs or by helping them to develop their own programming close at home.
Like the Micmac, the Maliseet are very concerned about the health of the ash and we spoke at length, again, about how to support their efforts to elevate this issue quickly through the conservation community. We agreed that Peter would take the lead in connecting us with John Daigle and Darren Ranco, and that Steve Tatko would take the lead in surveying conservation-
owned properties. We will all take the lead in communicating the ash narrative – that Maine is that last bastion of the ash – to all our peer organizations.
In reviewing among ourselves what we learned, felt and experienced on both days, we reached some conclusions:
-We will reach out to our acquisition colleagues at Conservation Fund and Trust for Public Land about the two obvious opportunities these two tribes raised to us.
-We will join our new colleagues within the Micmac and Maliseet nations by making the future of the ash tree in Maine a unifying focus of our efforts. All of us committed to sharing information with our memberships, commenting in the public comment period, focusing on supporting the work of John Daigle and Darren Ranco, and conducting our own survey of our
lands to determine quantity and quality of brown ash. We said we would elevate the issue at this spring’s MLTN conference. We spoke about a “youth corps” that might go out onto the land to ground-truth the presence of brown ash. Peter will funnel information on public policy with the tribes, and Steve Tatko will funnel information to the conservation community about surveying our lands.
-Maine Coast Heritage Trust and The Nature Conservancy will work together to come up with maps of conserved areas that are printable and shareable with our native colleagues at the collaborative conference.
-Peter and Deirdre will work to organize a listening session at Sipayik for November or December.
-Peter will organize a half-day session on the 1980 Maine Indian Lands Settlement Act so that we can all become more familiar with that history and law.