July 15, 2020
Penobscot Nation; United States, on its own behalf, and for the benefit of the Penobscot Nation,
Plaintiffs-Appellants/Cross-Appellees, v. AARON M. FREY, Attorney General for the State of Maine; JUDY A. CAMUSO, Commissioner for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife; JOEL T. WILKINSON, Colonel for the Maine Warden Service; State Of Maine; Town Of Howland; True Textiles, Inc.; Guilford-Sangerville Sanitary District; City Of Brewer; Town Of Millinocket; Kruger Energy (Usa) Inc.; Veazie Sewer District; Town Of Mattawamkeag; Covanta Maine Llc; Lincoln Sanitary District; Town Of East Millinocket; Town Of Lincoln; Verson Paper Corporation, Defendants-Appellees/Cross-Appellants, Expera Old Town; Town Of Bucksport; Lincoln Paper And Tissue Llc; Great Northern Paper Company Llc, Defendants-Appellees,
TOWN OF ORONO, Defendant. (Case: 16-1424)
Law360 7/16/2020 Article: Lawmakers Back Penobscot Nation Rights In Maine River
National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), filed a joint amicus brief in the case of Penobscot Nation v. Frey et al (previously Penobscot Nation v. Mills et al). The case concerns whether USET SPF member, the Penobscot Indian Nation, has the authority to regulate activities occurring on the Main Stem of the Penobscot River as a part of its reservation under settlement acts with the state of Maine and prior treaties. The state asserts that no part of the river falls within Penobscot’s reservation, despite the river running through Penobscot’s lands and its islands being considered part of the reservation. Meanwhile, state-sanctioned pollution of the river is impeding Penobscot’s sustenance fishing rights, among other issues. The case is receiving an en banc rehearing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
The joint amicus brief seeks to protect and uphold Tribal sovereignty by laying out the legal argument to support a reading of the settlement acts to include the Penobscot River. The brief addresses 4 of the 12 questions posed by the Court, including on the applicability of the Indian canons of construction. Specifically, we identify three distinct Indian canons of construction that this Court must employ in interpreting the Settlement Acts in order to comport with “the unique trust relationship between the United States and the Indians.” Ultimately, we argue that the Court must hold the government to its word in recognizing the Penobscot Nation’s sovereignty over its lands and resources, including the river and the submerged lands beneath it.