By Donald Hutchins IV, Contributing Writer
Historian, environmental activist, and peace advocate Maria Girouard of the Penobscot Nation recently spoke on campus about her experiences traveling to Standing Rock, the historical struggles of natives in America, and the hardships we face right here in the state of Maine. Students, faculty, and community members loaded the evening event with support and interest regarding the pipeline and ways to get involved.
Professor of Anthropology Gaelyn Aguilar introduced the event and speaker, concluding that, “this is not over.” Girouard bolstered that sentiment when she briefly discussed DAPL, but she quickly turned the focus to the Penobscot Nation and issues in Maine. The Penobscot River faces a different threat from pollution, and has also been disenfranchised from the tribe. Girouard traveled to Standing Rock in solidarity with the Lakota Sioux in 2016, but was disheartened to see so many traveling so far to be “active” when the same issues remain unaddressed in their own backyards.
In the state of Maine, alterations in the defining framework used to appropriate treaties disregarded the rights of the Penobscot Nation and restricted their use and affiliation with the river, which is a part of their people. “I feel like many Mainers do not know the significance of the situation being faced by the Penobscot people,” said junior Brian Wardwell. Girouard discussed the communities response with “the Penobscot River Case,” where judges eventually ruled against the tribe– in similar fashion with historical dealings between the American government and Natives.
Girouard also mentioned changes in regulations previously disallowing out of state waste disposal in Maine that have resulted in elevated waste levels near the Penobscot, which has impacted the river. “It was great to be informed on environmental and Native Rights issues so close to home, and to have an opportunity to hear the voices of the people most impacted,” said freshman Austin Garrett. “We must come together and honor our treaties with the people who called this home first,” he concluded.
Unified as “Water Protectors,” activists of many tribes and walks of life remained in Standing Rock, North Dakota, from the summer of 2016 to the latter end of February 2017 to protest Energy Transfer Partners’ project, whose planned path is through sacred Sioux Tribe land and under Lake Oahe, where their subsistence needs are met. Cheyenne River Sioux are currently encamped on private land a mile from Oceti, and other camps are reportedly beginning to emerge.
“This is not the sexy issue of the day,” Girouard mentioned, “these ‘Standing Rocks’ are everywhere.” DAPL publicity has brought attention to the Florida Sabal pipeline, the Keystone pipeline, and others in developing stages around the country. It has more notably brought out the historical turmoils between the government and native tribes. With or without the pipelines, there are native groups being undermined, hurt, and disregarded just like their ancestors– east coast to west.
Political Science professor Linda Beck was glad that the roundtable was “giving voice to a Native American on an issue that is Native American.” However, Beck had anticipated more discussion on Maine involvement in ND. She also noted that with the talk turning more unexpectedly into local issues, it would have been useful to have a voice representing some of the opposing perspectives concerning the river. “Given the centrality of the Penobscot River, it would be good to hear from the other side,” said Beck.
“True solidarity can look ugly on the surface,” remarked Wardwell, “but I for one am ready to stand with our true native people, and with our true environment,” he concluded. Girouard founded the Dawnland Environmental Defense alliance for natives and non-natives to unite for the protection of our environment, or “the Dawnland.” Updates, news, and ways to get involved can be found on their Facebook page. You may also get involved and stay updated by writing to your representatives and financial backers of the pipeline projects, and also by downloading the free app “Accountable,” which blends information and activism on current political issues. Future Roundtable and other informative events like this are also in the works.
Following Donald Trump’s executive order, the Dakota Access Pipeline is being constructed from the Bakkan regions in upper North Dakota and Canada to Illinois, where it will connect with an existing pipeline for transporting crude oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico for export. Further construction of the 1200-mile pipeline resumed a few weeks before the Feb 22 eviction date of protestors from Camp Oceti Sakowin and those around it. The Huffington Post reported two days of raids to clear the camp out, where the remaining 46 protesters were arrested, and many camps lay in ashes after ceremonial burning.
ABC News reported that two days prior to Trump’s executive order, U.S. Dept. of the Interior withdrew an opinion from Dept. Solicitor Hilary C. Tompkins, who had produced an opinion that justified denying easement of the project, as the top lawyer in the department under President Obama. Tompkins’ 35-page analysis of environmental impact and treaty rights issues was dated Dec 4, 2016– the same day President Obama denied easement and initiated environmental impact statements for the rerouting of the pipeline. Tompkins’ opinion was suspended for review by the department, under the current administration.
“The camps will continue,” Phyllis Young, a leader at the camp, said in interview with Time. “Freedom is in our DNA, and we have no choice but to continue the struggle.” Vice News interviewed Laura Hinman, a young Kumeyaay Native who was a writer in New York before Standing Rock called her to action. “We are facing the same beast our ancestors have faced for hundreds of years,” she said, refusing to stand down. As authorities surrounded the camp she continued the call to action: “keep demonstrating, keep talking about the movement and keep us all in your thoughts and prayers.”
“I am very happy to say that we finally introduced rule of law in the Oceti Camp,” said Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier in a post-raid interview with The Huffington Post. A similar sentiment was shown by Donald Trump when he relished in his executive orders during his first speech to Congress. But this isn’t really “the law” they’re introducing. The treaties this country was founded on are being disobeyed, and what’s supposed to be law of the land is being supplanted by the interests of corporate influence on our current leadership. Though, for Maria Girouard, the Penobscot, Sioux, and other natives, this is all just business as usual.