Wabanaki Days in Maine
Today we hear from Jennifer Lapis, a public affairs specialist in the Northeast Region. This summer she visited three Native American tribes in Maine, getting a firsthand look at the restoration and wildlife conservation work being completed in partnership with the Service and other organizations.
Laughs and smiles of excitement flooded the air as we pulled up to the project site on the serene Meduxnekeag River. On this sunny summer day in northern Maine, I had the pleasure of joining the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and several partnering agencies at a traditional blessing ceremony, honoring the start of an in-stream habitat restoration project that will benefit eastern brook trout and other aquatic species found in the river.
Others attending the Maliseet ceremony were part of a dedicated team of professionals who worked for more than a year to develop, coordinate and finally witness the anticipated habitat enhancement project come to fruition.
The Maliseets, members of the Wabanaki Nation, are river people who have traditionally been hunters and gatherers in the St. John River basin, of which the Meduxnekeag River is a tributary. The Meduxnekeag, which in the Wabanaki language means, “where it is rocky at its mouth,” runs through Maliseet Tribal lands and is prized for its brook and brown trout populations.
Standing on the bridge looking out, I watched in awe as large trucks and heavy equipment operators brought large boulders and entire tree trunks into the river, strategically placing them to create more natural habitats for fish. This particular restoration project is significant not only for restoring the area to its historical natural ecology, but also for the spiritual and cultural meaning the river and all its resources have provided for life and survival of the Maliseet people.
The trip to Houlton was part of a whirlwind tour of several natural resource project sites in northeast Maine, all conducted by tribes, in partnership with federal, state and non-profit organizations. These projects are made possible, in part, with funding through the Service’s Tribal Wildlife Grants Program, National Fish Habitat Action Plan and Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture.
Other tribes we visited on this engaging trip were the Aroostook Band of Micmacs and the Penobscot Indian Nation, who also belong to the larger Wabanaki Nation. As with the Maliseets, these tribes are heavily involved with natural resource projects throughout their lands and in the community. Our tour of project sites brought us to a newly constructed farm store and fish hatchery, a natural rock weir (made for fish passage), and road culverts that will help restore streams to their natural flow for better fish passage, wildlife habitat and are designed to withstand 100 year catastrophic rain events.
As a public affairs specialist for the Service, my day to day job duties tend to keep me in the office a majority of the time. Having an opportunity to get outdoors and see first hand the conservation work I so often read and write about, was a refreshing and heart- warming experience. Along those same lines, I had the honor and pleasure of meeting two respected Tribal Leaders, Houlton Band of Maliseet Chief Brenda Commander and Aroostook Band of Micmac Chief Charlie Peter Paul. It was an enlightening, educational, and certainly, a most memorable trip.
Learn more about our work with Native American Tribes
Learn more about the National Fish Habitat Partnership
Learn more about Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture