"For much of the state of Maine, the environment is the economy"
NOTE: This release is an opinion column, headlined "Open Tribal Meetings," appearing in the June 22 Bangor Daily News <http://www.bangornews.com/news/templates/?a=115413&z=35>. Reproduction permission is hereby granted by the author to all legitimate news organizations.
2005 June 23
One of Gov. John Baldacci's primary duties is to see to it that laws of the state and of the nation are upheld. Among many things, this includes civil rights legislation that has been passed by Congress. More specifically, the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.
The Indian Civil Rights Act, 25 U.S.C.§§ 1301-1303, Section 1, reads: "Constitutional Rights: No Indian tribe in exercising powers of self-government shall make or enforce any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition for a redress of grievances."
This act is strikingly similar to the First Amendment of the Constitution, which reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the fee exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
These rights have been regularly violated by the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Tribal Government. They have done so by preventing unfettered news coverage of events there and by prohibiting free speech. Gov. John Baldacci, who knows about or who certainly should know about the Indian Civil Rights Act, has remained curiously silent regarding these violations, and has even supported tribal decisions that have been illegally attained. Those tribal decisions include all votes that have taken place pertaining to the Quoddy Bay LLC Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) proposal at the reservation.
The Act's phrase, "freedom of speech, or of the press," doesn't state, "freedom of speech on an Indian reservation, or of the Indian press"; it isn't about "internal tribal matters." It's a universal statement, and rightly so: a free press is a fundamental requirement for a free society. For example, when a dictator takes control of a country, the first order of business is to take control of the press.
Regularly, as a matter of policy, the news media has been prevented from attending Tribal Council meetings in direct and egregious violation of constitutionally guaranteed civil rights of tribal members and of the press.
The tribal television station and newsletter are tightly controlled by tribal government. There is no official code of ethics relative to those two methods of communication. Messages by anti-LNG tribal members have been prevented from being distributed to the tribal community via their own media outlets. At times, voices of opposition have been prevented from speaking at tribal council meetings.
Gov. John Baldacci has provided his "consent of silence" to these civil rights violations, while at the same time recognizing illegally obtained results acquired by those violations.
It is quite possible that all the votes related to LNG at Pleasant Point would have had different outcomes, had Civil Rights been respected. The news media would have been present at council meetings, and the press would have reported on what actually took place as they witnessed it rather than reporting what the Tribal Governor told them took place. Tribal members would have had untainted information, would have been more accurately informed about the issues and what tribal council was actually doing. It would have been democracy. Instead, they received tyranny something that no American citizen should have to face, and no American leader should ever tolerate.
If this were happening in another country, U.S. politicians and human rights organizations would be speechifying on how terrible it all is. They'd be sending in elections observers, and consultants to teach democratic process. They might even invade!
Does Gov. Baldacci want his legacy to be the Maine governor who supported violation of Indian Civil Rights? It isn't too late for the Governor to do the right thing. He needs to speak out against Pleasant Point Tribal Government's illegal activities and manipulations. He needs to withdraw state recognition and support from decisions and projects that were accomplished through civil rights violations.
Gov. Baldacci needs to provide the integrity that the public expects of his office. Only then will Gov. Baldacci equal the respect deserved by that office.
Robert Godfrey of Eastport is the owner of Old Sow Publishing, a former photojournalist and college photojournalism instructor. He is the webmaster for Save Passamaquoddy Bay (www.savepassamaquoddybay.org), which opposes any LNG project in Passamaquoddy Bay.