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July 3, 2004

Sovereignty is not just a Tribal issue
By John Frachella

Maine citizens are losing their sovereign rights every day. Almost no one knows this better than the people living in and around T5 R8. Theyíre getting a taste of what itís like to be Native American. Theyíre losing their inherited and historical privileges to hunt, to gather, to recreate and to carve a living from their native lands.
      Itís easy to blame Roxanne Quimby for making the rent unaffordable for nine family lots and for Bowlin Camps. But what about the previous landowners of T5 R8 who sold out to J.D. Irving Ldt. in the first place? Back then, why didnít they offer camp owners the option to buy their lots before selling everything off to the Canadian giant? Greed probably, lack of foresight definitely. What about the decades of tax relief given to J.D. Irving for registering an entire township in "tree growth"? Is it fair to Maine taxpayers for Irving to sell T5 R8 at, or above market value to Roxanne Quimby, without owing at least some kind of pay-back-tax to those of us who donít get tax breaks? Are we expected to help carry affluent paper company CEOís on our collective shoulders forever because they grow trees? Is it fair for Roxanne Quimby to impose her restrictive standards on the non-dominant culture of sportsmen and women in the T5 R8 region to the extent that it wipes out peopleís livelihoods and century-old traditions of sustainability? Weíre told she plans to eventually gift the land to the Fed or to the State, but only after hundreds of years of hunting, fishing and sustainability have gone down the same slippery slope as the people who used to roam with the buffalo on the Great Plains. It seems that once again, destructive American history is repeating itself.
      Iíve been fighting for environmental and economic justice for three decades in Maine. Iíve fought in almost every river access, anti-dam and anti-pollution battle that has ever been brought to public forum in the recent history of all branches of the Penobscot River. Iíve served as an advocate for Native American sovereign rights and the right to economic justice for all Tribes in Maine. Iíve watched supposed non-racist Mainers vote for white-man gambling while at the same time voting against similar rights for the red-man. Iíve watched huge out-of-state corporations bring millions of tons of toxic waste into our pristine river basins in the name of regional economic advantage for all, when, indeed, the corporations were the only ones who stood to gain. In every battle Iíve helped to fight, Iíve found myself sitting across the table from the very same lawyers of the very same law firm. This firm represents paper company after paper company, hydroelectric company after hydroelectric company, gaming company after gaming company, and waste management after waste management company. It doesnít matter what the issue is, itís always big business (going by a variety of names like Great Northern Paper, Great Lakes Hydro America, Penn National Gaming, etc.) being represented by one huge law firm from Portland, Maine. The other side is always comprised of economically less-fortunate people (going by names like the Penobscot Indian Nation, American Whitewater, We the People, etc.). Seldom have the poor people won. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
      So letís say Roxanne Quimby eventually gifts T5 R8 to the State or the Fed. Thatís swell, except the historically rich hunting/fishing/outdoor recreation subcultures of Patten, Stacyville, Shin Pond, and Matagamon will have disintegrated by then. As if the State, or the already overburdened National Park System, or, for that matter, Ms. Burtís Bees herself, could possibly be better stewards of the waters and lands surrounding Mt. Katahdin than the Wabanaki were, or than the founders of Bowlin Camps have been! How naÔve. After all, why else would Ms. Quimby want to buy an entire township if not for its inherent beauty and healthfulness which has been preserved by those who came before her? To whom do we have to thank for the preservation of beauty and ecological healthfulness in this region? Well of course, that would be the people who have been driven from their lands centuries ago and people like Mother Nature (Muriel Fortier), the forager/gatherer who is being forced to leave her beloved home by virtue of her inability to pay the rising rent.
      Shame on Roxanne Quimby and shame on all of us for allowing our colorful, backwoods subcultures to be swallowed up by the homogeneity of our Stateís dominant culture. Shame on the State for subsidizing paper company pollution so a few can get rich at the expense of the clean water and clean air that belong to all of us. Shame on everyone who is allowing this to happen, because, when we lose our Maine heritage of hunting, fishing and free access for multi-use-recreation, we lose our soul to the "man". We allow powerful corporations to triple-dip at our expense: first they get a huge tax break for growing trees, then they cut all the trees and make a bundle of money, then they sell the land to private citizens like Ms. Quimby, making even more money. The end result? A private citizen gets to own a whole township for which she pays taxes at a reduced rate without being required to allow public access for recreation or subsistence or even meager, local livelihood. Maine looses its Maine-ness and becomes just like New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut or Rhode Island. And, every citizen of the entire world suffers the loss of a place that used to be different from the rest of everything else. Every citizen suffers except the rich ones, who go laughing all the way to the bank.
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