Dear Tribal Citizens,
I am writing with a heavy heart to let you know that the Tribe’s petition to the United States Supreme Court to hear our appeal of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision on the river case was denied today. As you are aware, we have been involved in a decade long legal battle with the State of Maine over its assertion that our reservation is made up solely of the islands in the river and that we have no rights to the waters surrounding them. We pursued legal action to protect the Tribe’s territorial, cultural and spiritual connections to the river. It was a long battle which we pursued in the federal district court and then the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals (including an en banc rehearing). We then filed this petition with the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, there is no further appeal.
Obviously, this is a devastating result, and we are still trying to digest it. We all grew up in this place with the river being central to our way of life, and no matter what any court or state may say, we know our history and our sacred connection to it. It is difficult to accept this decision that the river is not part of our territory, it seems absurd since we have lived within it since time immemorial. However, despite this ruling, our connection to the river will always remain. We will still be a presence on the river and continue to do all we can to protect it, including its animal and plant life.
The state claims authority over the river, but we will continue to be a voice to advocate for its protection and preservation. We still have a sustenance fishing right and we will continue to assert that right. For them this case has been simply about control, but for us it has always been about our ties to the river and that can never be taken away. We will continue to fish, to hunt and travel along it and to advocate and fight for it through whatever avenues are available to us for its health and vitality. It is named the Penobscot River for a reason, it is our relative and we will never stop fighting for it.
I want to thank all the tribal leaders that came before me, our tribal councils, citizens, partners, our staff and all our allies that have supported us throughout this long and difficult struggle. Today is very painful for us all, but I know the resiliency of our people and that we will work to overcome this loss as we have endured so many others through the years. I will continue to keep you informed on this matter.
Kirk E. Francis, Chief