Maliseet chief of 12 years re-elected

Posted July 21, 2009, at 9:37 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:45 a.m.

HOULTON, Maine — The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians will stay their leadership course for another four years, as Brenda Commander, the tribal chief for the past 12 years, easily won re-election during tribal elections a little more than a week ago.

During an interview at the Maliseet administration building Tuesday afternoon, Commander acknowledged that she is looking forward to digging deeper into projects as she progresses further into her fourth four-year term.

“I am very excited,” she said in an interview in her spacious office, which is copiously decorated with snowshoes, baskets and other crafts made by tribal members. “I was pleased with the election results, and I am looking forward to another term.”

Commander bested opponents Michael Kelley and Tina Beaver, securing 136 votes to Kelley’s 55 and Beaver’s 43. Three new Tribal Council members — Crystal Tucker, Louie Tomah and John Flewelling — also were elected to the six-member council.

The tribal chief is not subject to term limits.

The tribe, which became federally recognized in 1980, has more than 1,000 members. The Maliseets staff a health department, as well as economic development, natural resources and education and language departments, among others.

During her tenure, Commander has helped create new programs while working with others to pull in grant money for housing, health and domestic violence services. She has coordinated the establishment of the Maliseet Police Department and last year helped situate Nuhkomoss Wik, the new shelter for battered women and their children, on tribal grounds.

Commander also has collaborated with Houlton town officials on behalf of the tribe to complete road and environmental projects.

Commander said she has a number of goals for the coming years, including maintaining the tribe’s existing programs and infrastructure while also juggling new tasks.

The chief said she wants to help develop modern children’s educational programs, as well as answer the call of tribal members who would like to see a tribal cemetery.

“Our tribal leadership would like to establish one, and I feel it is a good idea,” said Commander.

“Another goal is to create a cultural center or a museum.”

The chief said tribal members have encountered numerous visitors who want to know whether the band has a museum or a place on the reservation to purchase handcrafted Maliseet goods, but such a place does not yet exist.

“We should have one,” she acknowledged Tuesday afternoon. “That would be part of a larger goal to further economic development here. We need a place to sell baskets, snowshoes, beaded crafts and other things. That would bring money to our tribe, put more tribal members to work and help to showcase our crafts and cul-ture.”

Another major project will be overseeing the construction and eventual expansion of a more than $2 million health center to serve residents.

“It is going to be a lot of work,” she said Tuesday. “But I believe we can accomplish it.”

jlbdn@ainop.com

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