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Penobscot Indian Island Reservation: Background information when reading Night of the Living Rez

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Night of the Living Rez

by Morgan Talty

Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty X
Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty
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    Jul 2022, 296 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Penobscot Indian Island Reservation

This article relates to Night of the Living Rez

Print Review

Black-and-white aerial photograph of the Penobscot Indian Reservation along the Penobscot River, trees and rooftops visible on land with surrounding water Night of the Living Rez takes place on the Penobscot Indian Island Reservation in Maine, home of the Penobscot Nation tribe of Native Americans, also known as the Panawahpskek Nation. Panawahpskek is the name for the Penobscot in Abenaki, the language used by these and other Indigenous Algonquin peoples in Maine and Quebec. The island reservation is 22 square miles, about a third of which is land, with the rest made up by the Penobscot River. The population was 627 people as of the 2020 census.

The Penobscot are believed to have lived in the area now made up of Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for 11,000 years before the arrival of explorers and colonizers. By the late 18th century, Europeans were occupying these territories, embroiling the Indigenous populations in conflicts and introducing alcohol and disease. By 1820, when Maine became a state, the Penobscot were relegated to reservations, including the Indian Island Reservation. The Penobscot, Maliseet, Micmac and Passamaquoddy tribes of Maine make up a collective alliance known as the Wabanaki Nations.

In 1972, the Penobscot sued the state of Maine, arguing that 12.5 million acres of land had been seized illegally. The tribe and the government reached a settlement to provide $81.5 million in reparations to Indigenous peoples of Maine. The Penobscot launched another lawsuit in 2012, staking their claim on the Penobscot River. After a decade-long legal battle, the Supreme Court refused to hear the Penobscots' final appeal in April 2022. Chief Kirk E. Francis issued a statement in response to the loss, saying in part, "We all grew up in this place with the river being central to our way of life, and no matter what any court or state may say, we know our history and our sacred connection to it." It's also worth noting that high mercury levels have been detected in the Penobscot River in recent years, adding further challenges for the tribe, who rely on it for sustenance fishing.

According to the census, the median income for households on the reservation is $31,029 and 27.9% of residents live below the poverty line, which is more than double the rate of poverty for all of Maine. Governance of the reservation is conducted by a 12-member tribal council. A Tribal Ambassador acts as a liaison between the Penobscot and the state and federal government.

The reservation is home to the Penobscot Nation Museum, which claims to hold artifacts representing 8,000 years of Wabanaki history, including weapons, beaded moccasins and other items of clothing, and carved wooden bowls and canoes. The museum also contains baseball memorabilia — Louis Sockalexis, the first Major League Baseball player of Native descent, was Penobscot.

Penobscot Indian Reservation along the Penobscot River in Old Town, Maine, December 1987.
Photo courtesy of CorpsNewEngland, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Lisa Butts

This article relates to Night of the Living Rez. It first ran in the July 13, 2022 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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