Penobscot Nation unveils new apartment complex for Tribal elders

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Nina Mahaleris | The Penobscot Times
Penobscot Nation Tribal members perform in a drum circle to celebrate the new apartment.

PENOBSCOT NATION, Maine — After demolishing an aging eight-unit apartment complex that housed some of the older members of the Penobscot Indian Nation, the community unveiled its latest housing development: a brand new 24-unit apartment reserved only for tribal elders.

“These projects are not easy for tribes to do,” Penobscot Housing Director Michael Bush said at the opening of the new complex on Jan. 15. He paused in his speech and said he was getting choked up thinking about finishing the project.

“Sometimes it’s hard to find an investor in Indian Country,” he said.

Bush said that because native tribes are sovereign nations, it can be difficult to secure investments for big projects such as housing complexes.

The tribe previously had to separate from an investor because the partnership wasn’t working out, Bush said.

The former apartment building on Nohkomess Street was “in horrible shape,” Bush said. Although it was built in the late 1970s, it was poorly made and needed to be torn down to make room for the new building.

Nina Mahaleris | The Penobscot Times
Tribal member Gabe Paul lights sage, sweetgrass and tobacco to cleanse the new building during the unveiling on Wednesday, Jan. 15.

The tribe blessed the new apartment with a smudging ceremony — a practice in which they burn sage, tobacco or other herbs and walk around the building. Gabe Paul, a Penobscot member, led the ceremony by lighting sage, sweetgrass and tobacco in a bowl, then diffused the smoke around the building by lightly fanning the embers with an eagle wing.

The ritual is used to cleanse and protect the building, Paul said.

Before and after the ribbon cutting, members of the Penobscot Tribe performed a drumming ceremony where four men seated in a circle beat synchronously on one large drum while singing together in reverence.

They continued to beat on the drum well past Bush’s introduction and Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis’ acknowledgements during the ceremony. As they played, visitors made their way down the halls to view the new apartments.

Nina Mahaleris | The Penobscot Times
Penobscot Nation unveils its new apartment complex.

The building is reserved for Penobscot members over the age of 55. Most of the units are available to rent, with the exception of five that are currently occupied, Bush said.

There are single- and two-bedroom units available, and all the single-occupancy apartments face the river. Bush said that all the apartment appliances can be adapted to be ADA-compliant so residents can age comfortably.

All the units have income limits which vary by household size, Bush said. For a single occupant, the income limit is $31,080, and for two people it is $35,520.

In a collaboration with the Old Town Housing Authority, a few apartments will be eligible to receive housing vouchers. Bush said interested people can apply through the Penobscot Nation Housing Department.