[Marxism] US indigenous tribe Pebenscot struggle, with Venezuelan help

Stuart Munckton stuartmunckton at gmail.com
Tue Jun 17 18:53:20 MDT 2008


US: Penobscots struggle, with Venezuelan help
John Riddell & Suzanne Weiss
13 June 2008

*"The Penobscot Nation is committed to continue our efforts until the fish,
wildlife and plants are safe to eat, and the sacredness is restored to the
river. Only then will our culture be whole again …"*

 These were the words of Butch Phillips, a tribal elder of the Native
American Penobscot tribe — whose traditional territory covers sections of
north-eastern United States and eastern Canada — in 2006.

Amid all the struggle regarding indigenous rights in the northern half of
Turtle Island (the Native American term for North America), little is heard
of indigenous peoples south of the Canadian border. When our vacation took
us to New England, we seized the opportunity to visit the Penobscot Nation.

There are today about 3000 Penobscots, of whom about 700 live on their
island in the Penobscot River, close to Bangor, Maine. This is all that is
left of their ancestral territories, which once embraced most of that state.

The Penobscots maintain a small and well-organised museum, which tells
something of their history. They have reprinted a decree issued in 1755 by
the local representative of King George. It declares war on the "perfidious"
Penobscots for unexplained reasons, orders the "killing and destroying [of]
all and every of the aforesaid Indians". It promises bounties for every
Penobscot scalp, including 20 pounds for scalps of children under 12 years
of age.

Their problems continued after the War of Independence. The museum displays
their indignant declaration of sovereignty, issued in 1957, which pointed
out that they had never surrendered to settler authority and that every
treaty they signed in the interests of peaceful co-existence had been
ignored and violated by settler authorities.

In 1980, the Penobscots achieved an $80 million settlement from the US
government in return for ceding the majority of the state of Maine.

Since then, the Penobscots have put much effort into campaigns to save their
natural environment from further devastation. We viewed a video of their
struggle to save the river on which they live — a river that is the heart of
their culture. The once-rich river fishery has been devastated by a system
of dams, which block spawning runs, and by pulp mills, which poison the

The Penobscots were recently successful, in alliance with other forces, in
blocking a proposal for a harmful new dam. The alliance has secured an
agreement for river restoration, which has, however, not been implemented.
The Penobscots have demanded that the Maine state government force pulp
mills to remove the poisons from their discharges into the river, pointing
out that technology is readily available for such an upgrade.

The state government has refused, citing the need to "protect jobs" —
meaning increasing corporate profits. As a result, fish in the river are
judged unsafe for consumption.

The Penobscots have established good relations with the Venezuelan
government of socialist President Hugo Chavez. The director of the Penobscot
museum told us that he had met Chavez this year — he paid their island
nation a visit during a US trip.

The Penobscots have been strong supporters and beneficiaries of the
Venezuelan government program that distributes 100 million gallons of free
heating oil to indigenous tribes and other impoverished US citizens each
year. There is no other comparable program in the US.

Venezuela also had a deal with London authorities to provide discounted oil
that was used to fund a special public transport discount for the city's
poor. However, the Conservative Party's Boris Johnson was elected London
mayor this year and cancelled the program.

Recently, a proposal was made in the US House of Representatives to
officially label Venezuela as a supporter of "terrorist" organisations,
which would mean, among other things, an end to the Venezuelan petroleum aid
project in the US

"Why would Congress do this?" asked James Sappier, Penobscot spokesperson.
"The program has provided a donation to the US poor people of almost a
billion dollars." He has alerted all the 200 Native tribes involved in the
program to protest. "We're worried sick that we're going to lose the program
because of this kind of frivolous attitude of some congressmen."

[John Riddell and Suzanne Weiss are members of Canadian Socialist Voice,
visit http://socialistvoice.ca.]

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue
#755<http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2008/755>18 June 2008.

"The free market is perfectly natural... do you think I am some kind of
dummy?" - Jarvis Cocker

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