Newly unearthed 1942 documents show that Maine resorted to ‘genocidal acts' with Native Americans: report

Newly unearthed 1942 documents show that Maine resorted to ‘genocidal acts' with Native Americans: report

In Maine, the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, and Tribal Populations has released a report that describes some newly uncovered documents having to do with Native American matters — including 80-year-old state government documents from 1942. One of the report’s authors was Donna Loring, former tribal advisor for Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. And according to Bangor Daily News reporter Jessica Piper, the documents “reveal how lawmakers brushed off obligations to tribes and laid out goals of assimilation and buying back land effectively aimed at eliminating their presence.”

The report is named “One Nation, Under Fraud: A Remonstrance.” In addition to Loring, its authors include attorney Joseph Gousse and Eric Mehnert, chief judge of the Penobscot Nation.

“We really meant this to be a historical document just telling the simple truth about things, no matter how hard it is to take,” Piper quotes Loring as saying. The report, according to Piper, laments that in the past, Maine’s policies with Native Americans amounted to “an official policy of fraud and cultural genocide.”

Describing the 1942 government documents that were uncovered, Piper explains, “It was 1942, and the Maine Legislature was considering a bill that would have attempted to strip Penobscot and Passamaquoddy women of tribal membership if they married non-tribal men. The conversation in a committee room soon evolved into a broader discussion of the ‘Indian situation.’ Asked by a legislative advisor whether there was money Maine owed the tribes, Attorney General Frank Cowen said the amount was ‘some millions.’ He said it was ‘fairly apparent’ in the state’s history that tribes ‘were robbed left and right.’”

Maine achieved statehood in 1820, when it became the 23rd state in the U.S. Before that, what is now Maine was part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Portland was Portland, Massachusetts, and Bangor was Bangor, Massachusetts. Boston, Portland and Bangor were in the same commonwealth before 1820; Boston remained in Massachusetts in 1820, while Portland and Bangor became part of the new state of Maine. And in the new state, Native Americans were victimized just as they were victimized in many other parts of the U.S.

“The Penobscot Nation…. takes its name from events in 1833, when Penobscot members protested the sale of four townships that had been reserved for the tribe under a treaty signed shortly after Maine achieved statehood,” Piper notes. “Timber was an economic powerhouse for the new state, with the townships near the convergence of the east and west branches of the Penobscot River eyed for harvesting. The state said the tribe agreed to sell the land for $50,000. Members said that was not true.”

Piper continues, “Dozens signed onto a protest document sent to the governor and other key officials saying that the purchase was carried out under circumstances of ‘fraud (and) deception’ and the deed should be nullified. The (Maine) Legislature rejected the protest and the tribe’s claim to the land. It is one of several historical episodes cited in the report to illustrate what the authors identify as a ‘history of fraud’ in the state’s dealings with the tribes.”

The authors of the new report from the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, and Tribal Populations compare the 1942 documents with “the Nixon tapes” — which shows how damning they consider them to be.

“Following the bill discussion during which Cowen had told lawmakers the tribes were owed millions, a legislative committee commissioned an analysis of the state’s obligations to tribes,” Piper writes. “It found several cases — some dating back more than a century — in which the state broke promises to the tribes by either failing to pay for land supposedly purchased from them or not giving them access to land they had rights to under treaties. That analysis also identified instances of state mismanagement of money intended for tribal trust funds.”

Piper adds, “The (Maine State) Legislature nevertheless decided in cases where it owed the tribes, it could pay the money back without interest or adjusting for inflation. Loring, Gousse and Mehnert write that the decision to pay far below what tribes were owed effectively amounted to ‘another robbery.’ But the financial decisions are only a part of what makes the transcripts Nixonian in nature, they argue.”

According to Piper, “Within the 1942 debate about what is financially owed to the tribes, lawmakers also laid out goals of assimilation, buying land from reservations and limiting intermarriage. In those moments, the authors wrote, the state ‘admitted to genocidal acts and intentions.’”

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