Our great state has given us more than we could ever give back.
We’ve been blessed to sit still in the deep woods in the fall, listening to the leaves rustle in the brisk wind while we waited for a deer to appear. We still receive a feeling of awe just thinking about the rushing expansive rivers while we cast our flies to catch brookies.
Like generations of hunters and anglers we’ve taken to the woods and rivers, and found ourselves thinking about what a special place we live in. Many times, we’ve thought about our ancestors who handed down to us the appreciation for hunting and fishing in the Maine woods and the people who welcomed our ancestors to the shores of Maine.
The Wabanaki Nations and their ancestors have inhabited what is now Maine and the maritime region of Canada since well before recorded history. Traditionally they lived most of the year in family camps that relocated on a seasonal basis, relying upon hunting, fishing, gathering, and commerce for their sustenance. The descendants of Mainers who came to these shores in the 1600s learned to live off this land based on what they learned from the Wabanaki. We count our ancestors among those who came to these shores and learned from the Wabanaki.
There is a never-ending appreciation of Mainers, Wabanaki and non-Wabanaki, for the bounty of Maine’s diversity of wildlife. For generations our ancestors have lived off these lands and waters. They have provided for our families. They have taught our children the importance of respect, moderation, and observation of nature.
The Wabanaki were Maine’s first conservationists. Tribal leaders like Lewis Mitchell, who famously admonished the Maine Legislature in 1887 for failing to protect Maine’s environment, inspired future generations of native and non-native outdoorsmen and conservationists.
Maine’s greatest conservationist politician, Sen. Ed Muskie, understood the lessons preached by Wabanaki leaders like Mitchell and saw that Maine needed to protect its resources to ensure we could maintain our heritage. The Clean Water Act became law on Oct. 18, 1972 thanks to Muskie’s diligent work. He understood that healthy Maine woods and waters were essential to Mainers’ health, recreation, economy, and way of life. Muskie took on a perceived political albatross, fighting for the outdoors over the mills, during the height of the political power of mill owners.
Muskie’s conservation sentiments of 1972 are the same as the Wabanaki today and the same as the Wabanaki in the 19th century. This is why Maine outdoorsmen and women and Wabanaki conservation initiatives have aligned so well through the years. Their enduring respect for Maine’s natural habitat and cultural significance is what binds all outdoor enthusiasts in Maine.
The passing of our appreciation for the Maine outdoors to the next generation is essential to our cultural heritage. One of us (Owen) worked closely with the Penobscot Nation to restore the Penobscot River. If it wasn’t for the Penobscot’s director of natural resources, John Banks, the project would have failed. His calm, thoughtful leadership instilled a sense of community within the divergent parties. They began to think of themselves as part of the river system, not as the domineering force.
The Wabanaki people consider themselves to be part of the forests and rivers, almost a spiritual relationship, when considering resource management options.
We must continue to protect our heritage.
LD 1626, “An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act,” stands before the Maine Legislature. This legislation will allow the Wabanaki Nations to continue their stewardship of their natural resources for generations of hunters and anglers to come.
There is a misconception, like there usually is when it comes to the tribes in Maine, that LD 1626 will have negative consequences for Maine. This idea is being pushed by the same, but much dwindled, industries which fought Sen. Muskie and his conservation efforts.
Indigenous people are the original conservationists of what we now call Maine. They are the original stewards of this land. They are the original hunters and anglers. Four hundred years ago they opened their arms to our ancestors. We lived and continue to live side by side with them as neighbors. Their heritage and our heritage are intertwined. The tribes are the ones that are our greatest allies in protecting our outdoor heritage.
Join us in supporting LD 1626.
Ray ‘Bucky’ Owen of Orono served in Gov. Angus King’s administration as commissioner of Inland Fisheries Wildlife Department. Paul Jacques of Waterville served in Gov. John E. Baldacci’s administration as deputy commissioner of Inland Fisheries Wildlife Department.