Tag Archives: native american

Traditional Knowledge of Penobscot Indian Nation Influence on Wildlife Projects

This blog is the third 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.  

For centuries, Tribal members from the Penobscot Indian Nation trapped, hunted, fished, and collected their food throughout their Tribal lands in what is current-day Maine. They passed along their knowledge to their children about when the salmon returned to the Penobscot River, where otter lived and nested along the islands, and how to collect fiddlehead fern at the right time. This traditional ecological knowledge was passed down from generation to generation – and is now used as important information to bolster scientific research about native wildlife and plants.

So, when Tribal members began experiencing changes in wildlife populations, they knew something was wrong.  Kristin Peet, wildlife biologist for the Penobscot Indian Nation, began researching the fur-bearing mammals in the Penobscot River, including otters, muskrats, and mink. In the past decades, Penobscot Indian Nation Tribal members of Maine experienced declines in the local otter population. Oral histories passed down through the Penobscot people describe ancient sites of otters that aren’t in existence anymore. The decline of known otter sites meant fewer opportunities for Tribal people to practice traditional trapping on the Penobscot River for subsistence. When Peet began her research on the otter population, she predicted the otter would be a prime environmental indicator of the health of the Penobscot River and its inhabitants. Combining the traditional ecological knowledge of the local Penobscot people, their account of the decline of otters, and Peet’s studies, they found that there are new otter sites which suggests a change in habitat preferences by the otter population.

However, the otter is not the only traditional food of the Penobscot Indian Nation and there was more to be known about other native wildlife impacts on the Penobscot River. Peet listened to the traditional knowledge of tribal members who relayed changes in their harvesting practices on traditional plants and fishing habitats, as well. Tribal members believed there were contaminants in Penobscot homelands from the Lincoln Pulp and Paper Mill, which used to lie upstream of Indian Island, one of the two-hundred Islands of Penobscot Indian Nation territory. Many Tribal members were worried that all harvestable items were contaminated downstream of the papermill. Thus, tribal members began to travel further north to harvest fiddleheads ferns and flagroot, a traditional medicine to the Penobscot people.

To determine whether contaminants were present in the Penobscot River, Peet and the Water Quality Program of Penobscot Indian Nation, University of Connecticut, and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife began testing muskrat, mink, and otter for contaminants like PCB’s. These three species were collected from traditional Tribal and non-Tribal trappers and provided the team opportunities to sample for contaminants. The muskrat, a herbivore, had relatively low-concentrations of contaminants, but had high traces in the liver. The mink, a predator, had high contaminants of PCB in their muscles. The otters’ contamination levels varied from little to no presence.

muskrat Tom koener

Muskrat, a sustenance food to the Penobscot people. In tradition, Penobscot elders eat the brain of the animal. The muskrat pictured here is from Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. Photo Credit: Tom Koerner/USFWS.

Using these findings, Peet and her team produced a culturally relevant brochure for Tribal members and schools. It is entitled “Wild Food Safety Series” and explains the traditional diet of fish, plants, and wildlife. It includes “do, don’t, and why” for traditional diets, how to culturally and sustainably harvest, and the recommended consumption rate for animals that have contaminant levels. For example, the brochure states individuals can “eat up to 10-ounces of brook trout and landlocked salmon from Penobscot nation waters per week” to help inform Tribal members in how they can practice their traditional subsistence practices safely.

In the future, a “wild foods safety” brochure series be will available and will include other fish, wildlife and plants.

Once the wild food safety series is provided for plants and wildlife, Tribal members will know the healthy sustenance rate for muskrat, otter, mink, fiddlehead, and flagroot. In fact, Tribal community members will no longer have to travel North of the old papermill for fiddlerroot because the study showed it is healthy anywhere in Penobscot Tribal Trust lands, even downstream of the old papermill.


Fiddlehead captured by USFWS

The wild food safety brochures increase Tribal members’ accessibility to traditional foods and furthers the practices of trapping and harvesting that are passed down from generation to generation in Penobscot culture. And it is all thanks to the traditional ecological knowledge passed down from Penobscot people.

The Furbearers Contaminant Study was made possible by the dedication and efforts of the Penobscot Indian Nation 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 about tribal wildlife grants please visit https://www.fws.gov/northeast/nativeamerican/index.html

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.


The sea-run fish of the Meduxnekeag are traditionally significant to the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, but due to several threats, the Atlantic salmon is now defined as an “at risk” species in the United States. In fact, the species is listed as Endangered within the Gulf of Maine’s Distinct Population Segment (https://www.fws.gov/fisheries/fishguide/atlantic_salmon.html). Photo Credit: Zintkala Eiring

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.

atlantic salmon greg thompson

Recently, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians Natural Resource staff learned that Atlantic salmon were found during a Canadian survey in Marven Brook, North Branch, and Hagerman Brook, which are all segments of the Meduxnekeag River near their Tribal trust land. Marven Brook was the most successful, with 16 fry and 2 parr sampled in August 2016, using electrofishing equipment, according to Cara O’ Donnell. The HBMI’s next project goal is to use Environmental DNA (eDNA) to have a greater understanding of the presence/absence of Atlantic salmon and other aquatic species in the Watershed, which is being done in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Pictured here: Atlantic salmon. Photo Credit: USFWS, Greg Thompson

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 goal of placing pooling structures is to provide resting spots for spawning fish swimming upstream the Meduxnekeag River. Sharri Venno imagines the new habitat structures will help narrow and deepen the stream like it was naturally. Photo Credit: Zintkala Eiring



The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians have been passionate advocates for the conservation of native fish, and have been heavily involved in the protection and recovery of sea-run fish. Several agencies have partnered with Maliseet Tribes through the signatures of several U.S. Federal Agencies (including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and Canadian Departments on the “Welastekw River Interim Statement of Cooperation” The document may be viewed here: Final Signed Statement of Cooperation 2017 Photo Credit: Zintkala Eiring

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


103 Native Youth Pollinate for the Future

The open space technology communications model is similar to pollinators in the natural environment. Individuals move and buzz around through preference areas of subject matter. In the case of the Native Youth Climate Adaption Leadership Congress (NYCALC), topic areas with the potential to be pollinated were Networking, Education, Spirituality, Sustainability, and Respecting Elders. Unlike flowers, these topics were specifically chosen by 103 indigenous, high school students from across the United States and American Samoa. Like butterflies, bats, and bees, students were able to to browse through these topic areas and decide which topics they were most passionate about. Students communicated and creatively designed a presentation about their chosen topic throughout the NYCALC week at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. 

banner image for Story

Indigenous youth from diverse cultural backgrounds immersed themselves in brainstorming  and taught faculty about their  solutions to the question, “What can you do to cultivate/nurture adaption to make your community resilient in a changing world?” As young leaders, indigenous students provided inspiration and encouragement for a bright future.

Jamilla Martell, Dilon Ortiz, Ben Hunter-Francis II, and La’akea Judd share their experiences of NYCALC. (Click on the image to view a slideshow of these experiences)


My tiospaye (extended family (Oglala Lakota language))

NYCALC, who would’ve thought bringing nearly two-hundred people together would feel like family on their third day of just meeting? The week was memorable at the least, but really, a life changing experience that connects you to an indigenous family and indigenous ally family that supports, encourages, and believes in you. We all are there for each other and that was really, the heart of NYCALC.