April 06, 2020

Tribes to continue water rights fight > Leaders vow not to turn over documents

PRESQUE ISLE – Leaders of two of the state’s Indian tribes pledged Friday to continue to fight against turning over water-quality information to three major paper companies.

“We’re trying to protect our people and protect our waters,” said Rick Doyle, governor of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point, during an assembly of the state’s tribal governors and chiefs in Presque Isle.

Maine Gov. Angus King also attended the event at the Presque Isle Inn and Conference Center, which drew approximately 40 participants.

The session marked the first time the five-member tribal assembly and the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission had met in Presque Isle.

Also represented at the meeting were the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, which hosted the meeting, the Houlton Band of Maliseets and the Penobscot Nation.

Doyle’s comments came at the end of a four-hour assembly that included a private meeting between King and the five tribal leaders.

The controversy over who has authority over water-quality regulation was part of that closed-door session, according to some participants.

Doyle, Barry Dana, governor of the Penobscot Nation, and Richard Stevens, governor of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township, were found in contempt of court last month after failing to turn over documents related to water quality to the paper companies.

Georgia-Pacific Corp., Champion International Corp. and Great Northern Paper Inc. had filed a freedom-of-information request to obtain any tribal documents related to water regulation.

The three governors were ordered to go to jail but have appealed the case to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

The legal battle began when the three tribes contested the state’s application to the federal government for authority to issue federal wastewater discharge permits.

The tribes said they believed the federal government would do a better job of protecting the tribes’ interests since the state is too beholden to paper companies.

During a public session Friday with the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission, two of the tribal governors said the battle is between the tribes and the paper companies and not the state.

“We will fight them with everything we have,” said Doyle.

Dana said no one from the paper companies has talked to the chiefs about the issue.

“We’re in this mess of trouble because the [paper] mills asked for something they’re not going to get,” said Dana.

The Penobscot governor said that if the companies withdrew their request the legal battle would be over.

King said the most important issue was to keep a dialogue open. “Fundamentally, we all have the same interests: clean air, clean water and opportunity for our people,” he said.

The governor said it could be difficult for various groups of people living together to respect one another’s cultures.

The assembly is an annual event, but King said it should be held more frequently.

“The better you get to know people … the more likely it is to resolve problems,” he said.

While the tribal chiefs and the governor may not agree on all issues, disagreements should not take the focus off attempting to find consensus, King said.

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