The Maliseet Nation, Restoring Sea-Run Fish in the Beautiful, Flowing River
This blog is the second in a series written by Jr. Native American Liaison Zintkala Eiring to highlight our Tribal partners and the work they are doing to manage wildlife populations – in honor of National Native American Heritage Month.
The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians are known by several names: “Wolastoqeqiyik”, the “People of the Beautiful, Flowing River” or the “Metahksonikewiyik”, the “People of the Meduxnekeag River”. The Houlton Band are ancestrally committed to conserving the native fish with whom they share their home in northern Maine. Traditionally, the Houlton Band crafted birch bark canoes to travel during spring, the spawning season for sea-run fish, within Saint John’s Watershed, known as “Wolastoq” to the Maliseet. Historically, Maliseet Native Americans occupied most of the eastern border between the U.S. and Canada. In fact, the Jay Treaty of 1794 established free border crossing for Maliseet people between the two countries. Currently, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians Tribal trust land is near the town of Houlton, Maine.
One of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians’ effort toward protecting their traditional fish, is to improve fish passage enhancement around culverts in tributaries of the Meduxnekeag River, which is named for being “rocky at its mouth”. This project is funded by Tribal Wildlife Grant, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
One of the individuals leading this effort is, Sharri Venno, the Environmental Planner for the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. She mentioned several impairments that are encountered by the Atlantic salmon and other native fish that travel and shelter within the Meduxnekeag River. For example, up until the 1970’s, the Meduxnekeag riverbed was used to transport logged trees down the river to for lumber and timber-related industries. This resulted in an unnatural habitat for spawning fish, with few resting sites and little habitat to escape predation. Additionally, the State of Maine still identifies the presence of DDT and mercury in Maine’s inland waters. Furthermore, the Mactaquac dam in Fredericton, New Brunswick, built in 1968, creates a major obstacle for spawning, migratory fish. Due in part to several consultations with Tribal Nations, the dam company agreed to dedicate $100 million to fish passage. The Houlton Band and other Maliseet First Nations continue to increase awareness about fish being trapped within the dam’s head-pond and the difficulty of upstream passage for fish. Currently, fish have to be captured below the head-pond and trucked upstream to artificially complete their sea-run fish passage, terming the phrase “trap and truck” for spawning fish.
Due to the efforts of the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department and funding from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians have also improved 2 miles of the Meduxnekeag Main Stem, over 1 mile of the North Branch, and 100 feet of Pearce Brook, an upstream tributary and fishing location. HMBI has also placed large boulders and trees within the river system to replicate natural habitat structures that would have been in the river before the timber industry removed them in Maine.
The conservation story of the Atlantic salmon is one of adaptability, perseverance, and pure passion and cultural attachment by the Houlton Band of Maliseet Tribe. Maliseet Nations have been sustainably harvesting sea-run fish for thousands of years. And today, they are at the heart of returning them to the Meduxnekeag River.
The Fish Enhancement Project was made possible by the dedication and efforts of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and the Tribal Wildlife Grant program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Grants are funded through an annual appropriation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For more information on the program, please view this website: https://www.fws.gov/nativeamerican/grants.html