Salt Water

Salt Water and the Settlement Act
Author Unknown

A long festering distrust of Maine’s Governor Angus King recently surfaced when several Passamaquoddy fisherman were harassed for hunting porpoise in their ancestral waters. Although the controlling laws governing the harvest of marine mammals is the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) it is not the Federal agents which the tribe holds responsible for the recent and sudden interest in stopping Passamaquoddy from hunting porpoise.

Frederick J. Moore III, one of the fishermen suggests that is the Maine State Wardens that shadow the fisherman and call in the Federal Marine Control officers. This harassment did not start until 1995 and the election of King as Maine Governor.

According to both Moore and tribal Lt. Governor, the Maine Governor stated a willingness to support an amendment to the Marine Mamal Protection Act (MMPA) provided the tribe can show evidence that the practice has continued from antiquity until the present.

For the tribe this offer has two major flaws. Altvater points out that if King believes that the Federal law should be amended it is he who should initiate such a request through the Maine Congressional delegation. Any request by the tribe for such an amendment would, in itself, be tribal recognition of Maine State sovereignty over traditional salt water hunting and fishing rights.

The other flaw which eighty year old David Francis and Abanaki Museum Director Joseph Nicholas recognized was that archaeological remains predating the European migration and subsequent theft of territory would never be possible. Tradition has dictated that the carcass be cut and boned on the beach and only those parts to be used removed. According to Nicholas the fins were often cooked at the beach. The only bones which would have made it into the household were those used for tools or decoration.

Even though the archeologists cannot support the measure of traditional use which King seems to need the details of such hunts were recorded as early as 1880 in such commercial magazines as Scribner’s Monthly.

The overall consensus among the Passamaquoddy leadership is that the State of Maine appears to have an agenda which includes the assimilation of the tribe into the non Indian culture. A direct by product of that would be the demise of traditional Passamaquoddy culture. This is but the latest of several initiatives which have been aimed at the tribe. A permit request that the tribe maintain a small casino in the border town of Calais was opposed by them gubernatorial candidate King and later denied. This past summer a Maine Patrol Warden seized more than 200 lobsters at the Maine-Canada border, after clearing customs, and allowed them to die in the summer sun while state officials pondered an appropriate authority for seizure. Those lobsters were legal according to both tribal and Canadian measures and were to be used in the 32nd annual Indian Day celebrations with the Mic Macs which this year were to accompany a trade agreement to be signed by several Chiefs.

The state’s position has consistently been that the Land Claims Settlement Act (LCSA) of 1980 and in particular section 6204 effectively gives the state jurisdiction over “all Indians, Indian nations, and tribes and band of Indians in the State.” In each instance the LCSA spells out the interest of both State and tribe in detail except for the issues related to salt water. Salt water areas were excluded from the agreement because the State wanted to clarify title of inland territories and it was agreed that salt water issues were to be dealt with at a later time.

The porpoise is universally seen among the Passamaquoddy as an enduring component of their traditional culture. Its’ oils have been used for medicine and lubricants and the flesh is relished as a dietary staple. Hunters share with less able members of the community, barter with others, and in the past have sold the meat to non Indian neighbors.

Both Nicholas and Francis reminisced about the state of abject poverty in which their people lived while bordered by more affluent neighbors and how their very survival depended upon the porpoise. Francis, a formally trained linguistic expert, claims that the phrases, “I am hungry” and “I am going hunting” are virtually identical. In Nicholas’s youth he recalled being taught the art of cleaning and cutting porpoise on the beach and then regarded by cooking and tasting the fresh kill before leaving for home.

The Passamaquoddy are environmental activists and strictly enforce rules far more restrictive on tribal lands than the State forces upon industry, agriculture, or any other segment of the State’s population. There is no evidence that amending the MMPA would have any negative impact upon the ecosystem of Fundy Bay.

University of Maine at Machias Professor of Marine Biology Gayle Krauss admits that, although she would not eat one, the porpoise is not an endangered species. She estimated that more are killed by entanglement in commercial fishery nets and lines than would ever be taken by the tribe.

Krauss raised yet another insidious but silent threat to the Passamaquoddy. Porpoise eat fish in the bay, often those fish which spawn and live near the fresh water outlets. As one of the final links in the ocean food chain the toxins which Maine has continually allowed to be dumped into the rivers by paper companies, agriculture, and private septic systems become magnified in the porpoise. Krauss suggested that there was not a great deal of research on the porpoise either in terms of population or general health.

Altvater acknowledged that the liver, a long prized part of the animal, is no longer eaten. Most have abnormal spots and growths. Since the liver is the organ most responsible for cleaning the animal of such toxins it is natural that the liver would be the first organ to show disease. The extent of this disease is so great that beached whales among the St. Croix River are treated as toxic waste.

Both Moore and Altvater agreed that hunters would willingly supply tissue samples, teeth, and bone samples to persons such as Krauss for testing and in the past have agreed to do so but cannot when arrest and harassment await them as reward for cooperation.