Passamaquoddy Group Demands Delay of Liquified Natural Gas Terminal Construction and More Information Second African Indigenous

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Four hundred years after Champlain sailed up Maine’s St. Croix River, another ship is coming. Its impact threatens to be as deadly to the indigenous people of the coastal Wabanaki region as small pox was in 1600. Life on this bay can be traced back 12,000 years. To honor this historic truth the Native organization Ntulankeyutmonen Nkihtaqmikon (We Take Care of the Homeland) has declared Passamaquoddy Bay as a cultural heritage site, which deserves protection and advocacy.

Ntulankeyutmonen Nkihtaqmikon is a group of Passamaquoddy people organized to stop the current efforts to locate a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on Passamaquoddy land and in the ancestral waters of Passamaquoddy and Fundy bays. In response to the growing momentum for an LNG terminal on Passamaquoddy tribal land, Ntulankeyutmonen Nkihtaqmikon has launched an ambitious campaign to educate tribal people and opinion leaders about the nature of LNG, identify interventions and solutions, and organize for reform. Ntulankeyutmonen Nkihtaqmikon intends to legally defend our right to organize a culturally appropriate response to the recent proposal by Okalahoma-based energy company Quoddy Bay LLC to process and store liquefied gas in Passamaquoddy territory. The project would require the Passamaquoddy to lease upward of 20 percent of the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Reservation (also known as Sipayik) to Quoddy Bay.

Over the past year, the controversial LNG terminal has been rejected by communities along the Maine coast from Harpswell to Searsport. It was only in June that plans to locate the terminal in Passamaquoddy tribal territory were made public, and LNG operatives, who include state and federal regulators and seasoned politicians, have already galvanized support from Maine Governor John Baldacci to bring LNG into this small coastal village.

On the evening of August 3, the Passamaquoddy tribal council told the population of Sipayik that it had already made an exclusive agreement with Quoddy Bay and did not need the community’s input to move forward, but voted 4-3 to hold a non-binding referendum anyway. Tribal Governor Melvin Francis promised that a referendum would be held in 90 days to decide whether to go forward with the LNG terminal. Less than two weeks later, on August 13, Sipayik learned from a notice published in a local newsletter that the Passamaquoddy governor and tribal council had decided to hold a special referendum among tribal members four days later on August 17. Never before in Sipayik history had the tribe received notification through the media of what the council was pursuing on its behalf.

As with similar votes in other coastal communities of Maine, the 193-132 vote on August 17 in support of the construction proved once again that community division existed. Ntulankeyutmonen Nkihtaqmikon believes that the Sipayik community had little time to learn about what the project would cost and make an informed decision. In an area with serious social problems, the money and jobs the project promises is enticing, but given ample time and appropriate information, it is likely that the community would have voted against Quoddy Bay.

The search for truth about whether an LNG terminal belongs on tribal lands and in tribal lives needs to include indigenous voices. Otherwise, the real impact of industrialization within a culturally distinct community will never be considered in the impact assessments.

At the proposed site, construction of an LNG terminal would prevent free access to Passamaquoddy traditional grasslands and sacred sites, which include the rocky shoreline that has served as the home to megaliths, geomyths, and our religious beliefs in Wonakomeswok (“little people”). The project also would threaten our deepest cultural beliefs about the value of clean air and water, as it would accumulate hazardous materials. Ntulankeyutmonen Nkihtaqmikon opposes the actions of government agencies and corporations that promote human domination and exploitaion of the natural world using non-sustainable practices that contaminate or destroy plant and animal species and habitats, sacred sites, and our communities and homes.

Questions remain over whether Passamaquoddy people have freely chosen to “lease lands,” and whether those initiating an agreement are truly considering the best interests of all Passamaquoddy people. Tribal leaders are being forced into closed-door negotiations with the State of Maine and multinational corporations—including Quoddy Bay, Smith Cogeneration, and unknown gas companies—without any oversight or monitoring. Whose responsibility is it to ensure corporate accountability within structures that have historically operated adversely to indigenous people? Every Passamaquoddy deserves to know who these multinational corporations are, what the real issues are, and what will be the real price of the LNG. More than this, we deserve ample opportunity to examine clear and understandable information about the “proposed” LNG import terminal being sought for Passamaquoddy Bay.

With the referendum passed, however, the tribe will have to work out a contract with Quoddy Bay and the unknown gas entity, which then will file an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Once the application is complete, the tribe will be able to view and challenge the Environmental Impact Study. Some legal considerations may change this process: Whether the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs will be involved is unclear, FERC does not include a process to address the cultural impact concerns that the tribe is likely to have.

Ntulankeyutmonen Nkihtaqmikon has made some difference by keeping media attention on this issue and is seeking legal support to commence a legal process in the near future. One thing is certain: this process is not over.

Vera Fracis is a spokesperson for Ntulankeyut-monen Nkihtaqmikon.

 

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