Sam’s House chamber speech on Passamaquoddy tribe’s water sovereignty

Sam Zager talks about tribe's water sovereignty

In House floor speech, Sam advocates for clean water for the Passamaquoddy tribe. The bill (LD 906 sponsored by Rep. Rena Newell) ultimately won strong bipartisan support 103-35, with many Republican members and independents joining all the Democrats. Video and transcript below.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I rise in support of the pending motion regarding LD 906 because I believe it is an important step towards health and fairness.

Despite honest effort by the Maine Dept of Health and Human Services, the Passamaquoddy still do not have ready and reliable access to clean, safe drinking water. We’re all aware here that water is fundamental to life from a biological perspective . To the Passamaquoddy Tribe and others, water is also sacred.  

And yet, for four decades the State of Maine has forced the Passamaquoddy tribe to be second class with regard to drinking and bathing water. After the 1980 Indian Land Claims Settlement Act federal legislation was enacted, the 109th Maine Legislature in the spring of 1980 passed LD 2037. MRSA Chapter 732, section 6204 says, “All Indians, Indian nations, and tribes…and any lands or other natural resources [including water rights] owned by them…shall be subject to the laws of the state…” In other words, the Passamaquoddy Tribe has heretofore been unable to utilize the very federal funds and water remediation resources that are available to every other federally recognized tribe. That’s simply not fair, to my mind.

Instead, this second-class status requires the Passamaquoddy Water District to have its water sovereignty unrecognized. That’s not fair.

This second-class status imposes a tax burden on the Passamaquoddy Water District, unlike any other water district in the state. That’s not fair.  

The PWD has had to treat the water from Ni-ZAY-ek (Boyden’s Lake) with chlorine to such an extent that it reacts with naturally occurring methane to create chloroform, the most common of the trihalomethanes. Chloroform is used as a solvent for lacquers, floor polishes, adhesives and rubber. It can harm the eyes, skin, liver, kidneys, and nervous system. And it’s been linked to cancer. 

What does that chemistry mean for the health of the people of Sipayik? The health context is that the all-cause mortality ratio for Native Americans compared to the overall population is 1.3. That means that for a given period of time, a random Indigenous person’s chance of dying is 30% higher than the general population. For the organ systems most implicated in trihalomethanes relevant to this bill–such as the kidneys and liver systems– the risk of death is 50-360% higher. That, certainly, is not fair.

We have the opportunity now to do something meaningful to at least partly address that unfairness. LD 906 would recognize the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s water sovereignty, and thus would be an important step towards both health and justice.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

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