Chiefs face jail over water in Maine

Nov. 11, 2000
Maine has threatened to jail three Indian chiefs for refusing to turn over private tribal documents regarding water regulation near their reservations.

AUBURN, Maine, Nov. 10, 2000 (UPI) — Maine has threatened to jail three Indian chiefs for refusing to turn over private tribal documents regarding water regulation near their reservations.

The Lewiston Sun-Journal reported Friday that a judge ruled that Barry Dana, governor of the Penobscot Nation; and Richard Doyle and Richard Stevens, two governors of the Passamaquoddy Tribe; would be sent to jail on Monday if they did not comply with a request from three paper companies to produce information on water quality regulations.

Great Northern Paper, Georgia Pacific and Champion International requested the information under the state's Freedom of Access law in preparation for a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency.

Water quality regulation is a contentious issue in Maine. Both the federal and state governments license towns and companies on their discharge of wastewater into the rivers. The state is seeking sole authority.

The Indian tribes oppose giving the state power to monitor water near tribal lands. They cite a 1980 agreement, the Maine Indian Land Claims, which exempted specific internal activities from the state authority. The Indians also protest state authority because they say the state favors companies at the expense of the Indians.

In addition, the Indians argued that tribal custom forbids the release of internal council matters to nonmembers.

"The tribes are unable to comply with the order in that their tribal law prohibits production of certain documents requested by the paper companies," said Brenda Commander, tribal chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. "The laws of these tribal defendants are different than the laws of the state."

But Superior Court Justice Robert Crowley disagreed.

"This is not an internal tribal matter to which tribal laws would apply," he said. "I don't believe that any evidence of their tradition is relevant with the issues before the court."

The judge said the three Indian chiefs could avoid jail and a $1, 000-a-day fine if they relinquished all the documents on water quality regulation or filed an appeal to the court's earlier contempt decision.

"We are a strong voice for our people, our rivers, our lands," Dana, the newly inaugurated chief of the Penobscot Nation, told the court. He said that the judge's ruling challenged the sovereignty of the Indian nations.

The Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes and the state of Maine have tangled in bitter disputes in the past over sovereignty. In 1970, the Indian tribes mounted a campaign to reclaim 12.5 million acres of Maine land, equivalent to about two-thirds of the state. Finally, in 1980, President Carter signed an agreement awarding the Indians $80.6 million in reparations.

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