Don’t Stop With Alexie

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 3.19.24 PMToday’s post from Debbie Reese at AICL continues the conversation about stereotypes.  Debbie wisely reminds us that by choosing to read narrowly in the growing library of literature by Natives accessible to – and for – children, we can fall dangerously close to reinforcing stereotypes.  Specifically, she talks about the 4D’s (drumming, dancing, drinking, death), topics most often thematic in books about Native life at the YA and adult levels.   She adds “being saved by a White protagonist” to this list.  It is important to avoid books that limit portrayal of Native culture and community to these narrowly defining features.

Of course, the 4D’s (as well as the occasional saving by a White) are found in the literature we use to integrate Native studies into our middle and high school curricula. But, as Debbie so aptly states, so is Rock & Roll.  So is coming of age. So is storytelling. So is spirituality. So is divorce. So are the 4F’s: friendship, flight, fear, forbidden love.

In short, the best Native literature is very much in the mainstream of contemporary YA literature.  And, as Debbie points out in this and other posts, there is quite a bit of it.

Teachers & librarians: Don’t stop with Part Time Indian – good as that book is, there are others as good and better.  (See recommendations at my Top 10 page).

I find it advantageous to read Native literature in today’s classroom.  Unlike many other fiction texts, these reads beg accompanying readings in the realm of “informational text.”  Tribal affiliation of the author/subject.  Historical fact-checking.  Cultural study.  Analysis of other cultural literature (in translation).  And increasingly, contemporary issues.

What better way to fight stereotypes than with a heavy dose of relevance and reflection?  We do not yet have a Great Wabanaki Novel, but we DO have persistent coverage in the news media of Wabanaki issues and news.  So in addition to reading more widely from the growing body of Native literature, I suggest that teachers connect students to some of the Wabanaki issues in Maine today.  I would probably start with one of these:

  • wind and other energy expansion on Native land
  • elver licensing and fishing regulation
  • tribal proposals (today and in recent years) to expand gambling
  • Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission (history, role, findings, actions)

I cover all of these and more in my Scoop.It Wabanaki News and Issues for ME Classrooms, but a Google search (tribe-specific is best) will be successful.  High School students can expand research to include similar issues among other Native tribes, including in Canada (hot issues now relating to child adoption and environmentalism), South America and Australia.

So Debbie Reese is right.  The Native “story” is much deeper and wider than can be told in one novel.  Reach out for more.

Four Acts Before the Inland Fish and Wildlife Committee

Four Act will enter hearings Tuesday, each of which could impact the Wabanaki directly (State House calendar). Tribal members would:

L.D. 201: be able to “hunt for, take and possess any wild animal or bird at any time for noncommercial consumption or noncommercial use.”

L.D. 202: be able to : “fish for, take and possess any fish at any time for noncommercial consumption or noncommercial use.”  [unlimited elver fishing, but no selling…]

L.D. 306: exempts enrolled members “from the archery, crossbow and trapping training requirements for obtaining an archery, a crossbow or a trapping license.”

L.D. 600: “adds an archery hunting license to the list of complimentary licenses issued to members of federally recognized Indian nations, bands and tribes.”

No mention of tribal reserve v. state lands. A surprise to me, as all acts are sponsored by Native representatives (who can not, I remind you, vote on them).  I wonder if the tribal represetatives are seeking to shore up treaties [which make the above sovereign rights already on tribal lands] in the face of “puffed up” and perhaps dangerous (to landowners like me) proposed amendments to Maine Constitution:

L.D. 1303: “provides that the citizens of Maine have the personal right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife, subject to laws and rules that promote wildlife conservation and preserve the future of hunting and fishing, and to provide that public hunting and fishing are a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”  Which does also not mention Native lands [no native sponsors].  I guess some rights belong to Maine’s Citizens and some are given to Natives by Maine’s Citizens – and these can be taken away?

Study and follow these bills at

Controversy is Heating Up: Elver Licenses

one-handed dip nets?

About a year ago now I wrote about a brewing controversy between the Passamaquoddy (both branches) and the state: Another Controversy Brewing…  The teaching points and questions I raised in that post are still valid – even more so now that the Passamaquoddy stand in defiance of both the state Department of Marine Resources and the recommendations of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

The Passamaquoddy have decided to issue elver licenses way over the limit of 200 imposed on them by the state in an emergency bill.  This was after they had testified in opposition to the proposed limit law.

Today the Passamaquoddy held a press conference to clarify their position. As I note in my comment on the latest article, I hope the tribe is informed and transparent: it needs to make a good case to the state.

I have been following this topic in my Wabanaki News and Issues for ME Classrooms  (see right sidebar) and will continue to do so. Scrolling down through the articles will provide students will a history of resources related to the topic.  I hope that visitors will engage with the updates, adding commentary and opinion under mine.  It is exciting that technology can provide us with both a timeline and an archive for “news as it is being made” – let’s use it!

In the meanwhile, students might want to research some of the technologies and tools used to harvest elvers.  The number and type of gear included in the licensing is also at issue.

  • one hand-dip net – specifications?  description? It is clear from a quick image search that nets come in various sizes and depths
  • funnel-shaped fyke net – ditto

Some new questions:

  • Is banning the fyke net a possible compromise, as suggested in the text of this petition?
  • Is where elver are fished for at issue?  Can it be part of a compromise?
  • What regulations do other eel-farming nations impose on elver fishing?  UK and the Netherlands are possible sources.
  • What regulations does the other elver-farming state impose? (that would be South Carolina)
  • What are possible negative ramifications to this Passamaquoddy act of defiant sovereignty?  Positive ramifications?
  • Is pitting tribe against tribe a part of a state game-plan?  (I  hope not, but it has to be considered)
  • What is the “best science” to support both sides?

Passamaquoddy Sued by Washington County: Taxes?

A tough economy hits everyone hard. Like you and me and the state of Maine, counties are looking carefully for uncollected funds as well as for ways to cut costs.  Washington County is one of the counties in Maine hit hardest economically.  19.8% of its population lives below the poverty level.  The county unemployment rate is 9.6%, which is the highest county figure in the state.  Within the county, the Passamaquoddy Tribe is under even more duress. Unemployment in the Passamaquoddy  Tribe is at least 50%.

Washington County needs funds, clearly.  If you have followed any of the announcements here and elsewhere of grants made to the Passamaquoddy for economic growth projects, you might believe that the Nation has money to spare.  Maybe that is what Washington County thinks too. In fact, Washington County has sued the Passamaquoddy for uncollected PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes on reservation properties).  Find news articles and a discussion of PILOTs below under Resources.  Is this truly a suit with an economic motive, or is it another challenge to Passamaquoddy sovereignty? Curious Maine students should want to know.

A key issue here is the legal position of the Passamaquoddy with regard to state, county and local taxation, which hinges on interpretation of the Land Claims Settlement of 1980.  Diana Scully’s review of the Settlement contains this statement with regard to PILOTs: “They [eg. Passamaquoddy Nation] must make payments to the State equal to the amount that would otherwise be imposed by county, district, state, or other taxing authority that are called “payments in lieu of taxes”, so Indian lands cannot be taken by the State under its tax laws.”  

2003 map of Passamaquoddy Trust Lands

The Passamaquoddy Tribe has filed a legal Notice for Removal and Complaint, which appears to be a legal maneuver to have the suit tried at a federal district court.  I don’t speak legal brief, but the Passamaquoddy do.

I can appreciate, after reviewing Land Claims materials, that the position of Washington County may be tenuous. On the other hand, previous to 2006, the Tribe did make PILOTs payments.  The Penobscot Nation makes PILOTs payments yearly.

$40,000, the estimate of back PILOTs the county has sued for, might not sound like much.  In Aroostook County South,  about $5,000,000 is assessed in taxes to defray County expenses.  In Sagadahoc County, where I live, the tax revenue is closer to $8,000,000.  [Washington County does not have a website.]  This revenue is raised through municipal property taxes, a percentage of which (over 50% in my county) goes to the county.

This is definitely worth a high school student study, precisely because the issues are so clouded by history, legal language, and inconsistencies in tribal-state-county relations within Maine itself.  It is an issue that begs for sides to be taken.  Moreover, it is great way to students to connect an authentic investigation of local communities to a larger state and national issue.  It is a civics lesson, a literacy lesson (reading legal papers, expert commentary, charts, etc.), and perhaps an ethical lesson.

Questions to be asked:

  • Why did the Passamaquoddy Tribe stop making PILOTs payments?  What was the size of these yearly PILOTs?
  • Is the County or the Tribal government responsible for property assessments on reservation land?  overall tribal properties (which would include Trust lands)?
  • What exemptions apply to Trust Lands?
  • What exactly ARE the taxation terms of the Land Claims Settlement?
  • Do the Passamaquoddy tax their own reservation property owners (as a municipality may do)?
  • How does the average PILOT’s assessment compare to the tax paid to municipalities in Washington County of similar population?
  • Does the state directly tax Passamaquoddy tribal members?
  • Do state sales taxes apply to goods sold on reservations?
  • Why is Indian Country (nationwide) following this story?  What are the implications for reservations, trust lands, and Nations all over the USA?
  • What is a county in Maine responsible for vis-a-vis a municipality?  a Native reservation?
  • What is the annual budget of the student’s county?  What are the property taxes of the student’s family?  What is the percentage of this tax that goes to the student’s county?
  • What specific county expenditures benefit the Passamaquoddy Tribe?  Compare/contrast with a municipality within the county and/or with the student’s own town.  Which of these county programs/expenses are also the responsibility of the tribal governments?


The Question of a 6th Native Settlement in Maine

Moosehead Lake region

Do all Maine Natives see eye-to-eye?  No, they do not.  Nor do they do they look alike, think alike, or agree on everything.  That is simple-stereotype thinking.

It’s refreshing to find an instance of this diversity of Native thought prominent in today’s news.  To the left, you will find a link to an article about David Slagger seeking national recognition of the Moosehead band of Maliseet.  An update on this article can be read and listened to at the MPBN website: Group of Maliseets in Maine Seeks Federal Recognition.

Students in Maine can learn much from following up on this story.  All of the Natives interviewed and/or quoted in the story can be readily located.  The chances are very good that each will respond to serious student requests for more insight into the question of a Moosehead band. Additionally, students can contact local Moosehead community leaders, economic leaders and business owners, residents, the state representatives for the Moosehead region, and perhaps even students in an area school.  Chief Brenda Commander, Houlton Band of Maliseet, might respond to a student request.

Students will want to visit, or revisit, the locations of the five Maine native tribal groups.  They will also want to research Maliseet pre-Contact/ancestral territory (this will be difficult and somewhat confusing, but a general sense can be obtained from print and online sources – see Mapping the Wabanakis, which has some broken links, but will serve as a beginning).

Students might ask:

  • Process:
    • What are the criteria for federal recognition?  What data must be collected and presented?
    • What exactly is the process?
  • Impact:
    • How will federal recognition impact the other five recognized Wabanaki tribes?
    • How will it benefit the new Moosehead band, should it be recognized?
    • What will be the trickle down – or domino – impacts on state economy and legislature?
    • Would there be an impact on non-natives living and/or employed in the area of the proposed Moosehead band?
  • System of Government:
    • What was the “government” of each tribe before the Chief – Council system?
    • How, exactly, did a matriarchial system work to sustain culture and tribal community?
    • What are the reasons for Slagger’s desire to create a new form of tribal governance?
    • What would be the process?
    • What was the rationale behind the Chief – Council system?  Did it, in fact, serve to support tribal assimilation?  If so, how?

These are questions that today’s tribal leaders and historians can address.  The answers offer students not only deeper understanding of Maine’s Native nations historically, but also a deeper understanding of how sovereign Native nations function in relation to the state and federal governments.

With this understanding, students can write essays for the Maine Wabanaki essay contest.  They can write articles for local news.  They can send position papers to Maine’s senators and representatives, and to their local representatives.  They can share their research with other students in Maine.

This is terrific opportunity for Maine’s middle and high school teachers to move students beyond Wabanaki cultural history and into the realities of today that are at the heart of LD 291.  This is an great opportunity for students to confront the fact that Maine’s Native are – not were.

Penoscot Nation Sues – Sovereignty Rights Issue

The state of Maine – in the past and under the current leadership – is not a good friend of Native sovereignty.  Despite some expanded recognition of sovereignty with regard to  reservation social issues, the Nations, especially the larger Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes, have repeatedly found state regulation and policy to be restrictive and/or antagonistic.  As was the case with the Penobscot River Restoration Dams project, alliance with non-governmental groups has been a successful path.  As was recognized at the recent Wabanaki Confederacy Gathering in Halifax, this type of alliance non-native interest groups is the way of the future.

But it seems that Maine has little interest in allying with the interests of the Wabanaki.  Once again an issue of sovereignty is in the news.  The Penobscot Nation has sued the Attorney General (along with other state agencies) over control, or regulation, of fishing in the waters abuting/surrounding reservation lands (see resources below).  At issue is the freedom of Penobscot tribal members to sustenance fish (fish for food).

This provokes interesting and timely questions:  Does sovereignty extend beyond the shores of Native lands, as it does beyond the shores of state and federal lands?  What is meant by “sustenance fishing” in the Penobscot Nation today?  Are there treaty-created “sustenance fishing rights” for Maine’s tribes? What events spurred this action by the Penobscot Nation? What are the possible negative and positive impacts of Maine affirming the Penobscot sustenance fishing rights?  What is the history of sustenance fishing in the rivers?  And the over-reaching question: Should Maine have the right to limit Native sovereignty through licensing and regulation?

These questions can become the core of an authentic research and learning experience for Maine middle and high school students, perhaps one that will result in a recommendation to the state and/or to the Penobscot Nation. The topic fully addresses both LD 291 and History/Social Studies standards (including the SS reading portion of the new Common Core ELA standards).

Students will need to research current and past coastal/waterways regulation and licensing, especially with regard to fishing.  This is a topic very much in the Maine news this year.  They might also research regulations in other states with Native lands abutting fishing waterways (Alaska, Washington, Montana, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, etc.).  They should review the sovereign rights of the Penobscot Nation with regard to hunting and contrast this to fishing.  This information is readily available online, but state and tribal officials can and should also be contacted.  It might be possible to gather hard data on the extent of Penobscot sustenance fishing.

I hope that at least one Maine classroom takes this topic on!



Penobscot Nation: Taking a Part in Conservation

photo: Penobscot River Restoration Trust

June 11, 2012:  a Big Day.  After years of coordinated efforts, the Penobscot River Restoration Project realizes a major success: the Great Works Dam on the Penobscot, bordering Indian Island, is coming down.  As one of the seven member organizations of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, the Penobscot Nation played a key advocacy role in this project.  It is worked for years toward this dam removal.

Students researching this event and the many steps that led up to it, loudly opposed by Governor LePage (see article below), will gain a greater understanding of how the Nation works with non-native organizations and within the state political system to advance issues which support tribal worldview and economic programs.  Identifying key points in the argument for dam removal will help students to better understand the Penobscot Nation and its complex sovereign status within the state.

Like all important issues, this one is 2-sided, making it ideal for classroom discussion, debate, and writing. Students might ask: Beyond the obvious answers to Why? questions, what are the long-term considerations and concerns of the Penobscot River Restoration Project?  Of Governor LePage?  What corollary or consequential considerations can you think of for each side of the argument?  What solutions to these can you devise? 

Students should not hesitate to contact the “key players” in river dam projects in Maine, tribal, non-profit and governmental.

Begin here:

Abbe Sovereignty Exhibit Now Online

The Abbe Museum has launched a new online exhibit, Wabanaki Sovereignty in the 21st Century.  As is true of all other Abbe online materials, this exhibit covers the bases of its topic in a student-friendly, informational manner.  Students and teachers will find here into eight key sovereignty issue-laden topics (The Border, Veterans, Identity, Language, Emerald Ash Borer, Gaming, Hunting & Fishing Rights, and Environmental Management). Taken as a whole, the exhibit helps visitors to understand the Wabanaki in the 21st Century – beyond what artifacts, maps, documents, arts, traditional lifestyle reconstructions, and oral literature convey.  This is a necessary and important new resource for LD291 studies.

Within each topic, look for Native contact people (who are quoted and clearly identified), historical background, references to historical documents and events (that should be pursued), and subtopics identified in or suggested by the newspaper Headlines that form the structure of the site itself. You will NOT find essays that provide detailed overviews or answers to essential questions. You will not find propaganda. You will not find a textbook. But you will find material to stimulate thought and discussion. Students will find themselves “weighing in” on several of the issues, especially those that provoke responses that fall under the heading of “emotional politics.”   In my mind, this makes the exhibit an excellent resource for learning and understanding.

Send students here to identify research topics, to find contacts, to think critically about historical threads and contemporary events here in Maine. Teachers should use the site to complement Maine studies and U.S. history overviews.  The structure makes it ideal for small-group assignments that have a problem-solving component and as a jumping-off point for in-depth research into some of today’s issues (such as elver licensing).

Thank you to the Abbe and to those tribal spokespersons who provided input into the site.  I personally have waited a long time to hear some of those voices so loud and clear.

Another Controversy Brewing – Environmental and Sovereign

Does sovereignty extend to stewardship of the environment?  What happens when the State of Maine and the Passamaquoddy Nation disagree about that stewardship?

As I write, a controversy is broiling up in Maine.  As outlined in this article, at issue is the number of licenses made available this year for elver fishing, called harvesting (elver are juvenile eels).  Overfishing, the state’s Department of Marine Resources fears, will seriously deplete the population of eel, already in decline.

The value of the elver on the Asian fish market has made national news (NY Times, NPR for starters).  It is no wonder that the Passamaquoddy seized the opportunity to bring some of this windfall into the tribal economy.  On the other hand, the species is being monitored by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which has in the past considered (but not finalized) elver fishing limits and/or banning as a conservation method, and which currently lists the American eel as a managed species.

This is a terrific topic for student action research and problem-solving.

Questions to consider:

  • What are the reasons for the decline in the American eel population?
  • What issues propel the Passamaquoddy decision?
  • What role might MITSC play in this and similar disagreements?
  • What agency has, or should have, “final say” in fisheries conservation?
  • What is the background of the Passamaquoddy sovereignty over elver licensing (fish licensing) to tribal members?  To what other species does this sovereignty extend?
  • Do Maine’s Native nations have a responsibility for environmental conservation?  How has this responsibility been exercised in the past by the Passamaquoddy?
  • What are possible solutions, new and untried,  that will stem the decline in the American eel population?

Economic Development

Conference TitleLike all nations, the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micmac and Maliseet nations are greatly concerned with economic development.  On September 20, 2011, a conference in Bangor addressed the concerns, priorities, and projects surrounding this issue (see the Conference title above).  High School students can begin a serious study of Maine tribal economics by listening to the audio recording of the opening Roundtable Discussion with Five Tribal Chiefs, which was broadcast by NPR as a Speaking in Maine segment.  Download the podcast or .mp3 at this link.  Download the Agenda for the day at this link (.pdf).  This will provide students with additional “contact people” for extended research. Download the Workshop Summary and Opportunities for Further Engagement (largely audience feedback) at this link (.pdf). Students who wish to further pursue the issue might contrast the Summary of the Bangor conference with summaries from other Growing Economies in Indian Country conferences (see a list).  It will take some research to find other podcasts and summaries.

I first listened to the opening Roundtable, taking notes as each chief responded to specific questions.  I then reviewed the Agenda, trying to envision how the rest of the day went. Then I read the Summary.  It was clearly a day demonstrating U & D: Unity and Diversity.  Rather than provide my own thoughts about these materials, I am going to provide a set of “read/think” questions for students. Remember that answers should be specific to each nation, not generalizations.

  1. What are the goals of tribal economic development?
  2. What are the major economic challenges faced by each of the tribes represented? (Maliseet Chief Brenda Commander was not able to attend).
  3. In what ways are the economic development priorities outlined by the separate tribal chiefs the same as and different from the current priorities for Maine as outlined by Gov. LePage (good extension: listen to Gov. LePage’s plan to eliminate supports for alternative energy supports)?
  4. In what ways does the location of tribal reservations and lands affect their economic outlooks?
  5. In what ways do lack of knowledge and understanding of tribal culture and values (on the part of the non-native economic community) affect tribal economic growth?  Why?  Is this changing?
  6. Chief Cleaves calls for affirmative action on the part of major revenue sources (banks, etc.) so that funds for growth projects can be more readily available.  What do you think about this? Why?
  7. Explain why the nations must balance the power of their cultures with the Market Economy/revenue-based economy?  How are they doing this?
  8. How is sovereignty – economic and political – identified as an issue and as a solution by Chief Kirk?
  9. What is the role of education in the tribal economic development plans?
  10. Who, specifically, are the service providers noted in the Summary, and what services can/do they provide to the tribes?
  11. Research: Historically, what have been the nature and extent of tribal economic development?  [tribal sites and the Abbe Museum are good places to start]  What has driven change or adaptation?

This might be an interesting topic for this year’s Maine Native American History and Culture Essay Contest!