Film highlights battle for the Penobscot River

penobscot film

Kayakers and canoeists in a flotilla on the Penobscot River in Bangor on May 23 highlight the struggle of the Penobscot Nation to retain rights to the river. PHOTO COURTESY SUNLIGHT MEDIA COLLECTIVE

BAR HARBOR — A new documentary film exploring the conflict between the state of Maine and the Penobscot Nation over contested river territory will be shown at College of the Atlantic Gates Auditorium on Saturday, Oct. 24, at 1:30 p.m.

The screening of “The Penobscot: Ancestral River, Contested Territory” will be introduced by Maria Girouard, who also will lead a follow-up discussion of the film and the issues it raises. She is a Penobscot historian and co-founder of the Sunlight Media Collective, the collaboration between Penobscot and non-native filmmakers that produced the film. This screening is jointly sponsored as a project of a College of the Atlantic class on Conflict Resolution Across Cultures and by Pax Christi of Maine.

The documentary explores stories from the 1700s up through the present-day legal battle of “Penobscot Nation v. Mills.” The Penobscot Nation is suing the state of Maine in response to a decision by former Attorney General William Schneider that the Penobscot Indian reservation, which includes more than 200 islands in the Penobscot River, does not include any portion of the water.

Oral arguments in the case were scheduled for Oct. 14 at the U.S. District Court in Portland.

According to Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis, the Penobscot v. Mills case “is really not about controlling the river system or controlling individuals within the system. It’s really about our ability to manage a subsistence resource that we have a responsibility for, for multiple generations.”

The case is taking place in the context of a larger state battle over river jurisdiction and water quality standards. In February, the federal EPA ruled that Maine must improve its water quality standards to protect Penobscot sustenance fishing rights. Governor Paul LePage has called the ruling “outrageous” and threatened to relinquish state regulatory responsibilities to the federal EPA if they did not reverse the ruling.

For more about the film, visit

For more about the screening and discussion, contact Gray Cox at [email protected] or 460-1163.


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