Elvers, Truth and Reconciliation, and LePage’s obstructionism

I was shocked—but not shocked because obviously—to hear that, according to Passamaquoddy official, Governor LePage threatened to withhold support from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission during his most recent temper tantrum. My friends who pay attention to fishery policy and sustainability and compliance issues suggest that this dust up regarding Passamaquoddy elver fishing practices is an incredibly important issue. They say that one group fishing out of compliance can shut the entire industry down. Between that reality and ongoing and crucial conversations about tribal sovereignty, I acknowledge that this issue is an important one and it should be discussed and addressed with great care. A good starting point for the conversation, however, should not have begun with the Governor (who actually has the law on his side, argues David Farmer) threatening to discontinue the process set up to address that time the State essentially kidnapped native children as a cruel means of cultural elimination through forcible assimilation.

Because that is what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up to address:

“The state of Maine is working to repair the damage of an American outrage. Maine is one of the states where authorities once took away the children of Native American families. They were placed in foster homes or boarding schools, supposedly for their own good.”

More from the American Friends Service Committee website:

“Through 1978, Maine public policies guided by the slogan, ‘kill the Indian and save the child,’ led to the removal of Native children from their homes and tribes at a shocking rate 19 times the per capita rate for other children placed in foster care throughout the state. Some Native children were put up for adoption, and some were sent to boarding schools where many died from neglect and abuse. Many others were placed in foster care where torturous abuse was all too common.

“A mandate will now be developed to set forth the parameters for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) work, which includes the commission selection process, its composition, authority and objectives and the time period of its focus.”

It is rare that I celebrate the actions of LePage, but I was proud that chiefs from all five of Maine’s tribes and the Governor signed a declaration of intent to start a truth and reconciliation process between the tribes and the state child welfare system. Sadly, that the Governor brought the Commission into this wholly unrelated fight is as disappointing as it is offensive and predictable, and it is another occasion where his temper has made an important issue more about him than it is about the conversation necessary for finding solutions.

I could foolishly feign ignorance and suggest that things might get better, but the evidence regarding LePage’s willingness to act rationally, sensitively or constructively is in. If you see from a perspective different from the Governor’s, you are out of the conversation. If you happen to come down on the same side of an issue as he does—as I have, particularly on his support for the growth of Maine’s emerging brewing scene—his attachment to said issue does your position a disservice. If you are in his party, and I hear this in the form of anonymous complaints from Republicans on a very regular basis, you are constantly trying to undo the damage he does to your affiliation, to disassociate from his reputation. His ego is unrivaled, his association is poison.

I look forward to the day that LePage and his temper are voted out of the way of dialogue, deliberation, and efforts to do the right thing. In the meantime, he should leave the Commission—one of the only unambiguously good things he has been partially responsible for—out of the temper-tantrums that inevitably remain between now and when that happens.

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Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.