Penobscot Nation puts support behind Canadian tribes fighting law changes

Posted Dec. 21, 2012, at 4:07 p.m.

INDIAN ISLAND, Maine — Members of the Penobscot Indian Nation gathered Friday to voice their support for the First Nations, a Canadian organization made up of more than 630 tribal communities, in the wake of a bill recently passed by the Canadian Senate that has drawn sharp opposition from tribes in Canada.

More than 40 Penobscot tribal members formed a circle around a small fire on the banks of the Penobscot River for a prayer, smudging and drumming ceremony Friday afternoon in a show of solidarity with the First Nations.

The outcry stems from the Canadian Senate passage of a 400-plus-page budget law, Bill C-45. The First Nations believes the law will terminate aboriginal treaties, and some tribal communities fear their sovereignty will be lost, essentially turning their communities into municipalities, according to Canadian news outlets.

The law also would make it easier for oil companies to build pipelines and purchase land by narrowing the scope of effects that need to be explored during environmental reviews, the tribes say. Tribes also strongly oppose changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which removed thousands of bodies of water from federal protection in an attempt to streamline development projects.

Penobscot Tribal Chief Kirk Francis and Tribal Councilor Donna Loring, who also is a former tribal state legislator, both called the Canadian bill “appalling.”

Protests have spread across Canada under the movement Idle No More, with tribal members blocking and slowing traffic on roads and bridges. On Friday, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence entered the 11th day of a hunger strike protesting the bill. Spence has vowed to continue her hunger strike until Prime Minister Stephen Harper agrees to meet with her.

The tribes also argue that the bill and process behind it violate the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which requires that governments allow indigenous people to participate in decision making that would affect their rights, that governments consult and cooperate with indigenous people before adopting measures that may affect them, and more.

Francis said Native tribes in Canada and the United States are experiencing the return of “termination policies.”

“The inherent authority of tribes is under attack,” Francis said, calling on Wabanaki people to stand with the First Nations.

“It’s going to take communities coming together to fight these issues,” he said.

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