An anti-Trump rally in Portland was interrupted Saturday afternoon by a group who confronted Attorney General Janet Mills over her part in a long-running dispute between the state and the Penobscot Nation over water and fishing rights on the Penobscot River.

About a dozen protesters, led by Elizabeth Mitchell, a member of the Penobscot Nation, unfurled banners, held signs and shouted over Mills as she attempted to deliver a speech on the steps of City Hall assailing the Trump administration.

The interruption was the only moment of tension in an otherwise calm rally put on by an organization called Mainers for Accountable Leadership and co-sponsored by a coalition of local groups to pressure the Trump administration to be more transparent in the face of mounting federal investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The rally coincided with more than 100 so-called March for Truth events across the country and the world, including a march in Washington, D.C., organizers said.

Mills was among the last on the bill to speak, but the confrontation by the activists risked overshadowing the message of the larger rally, which drew roughly 300 to the steps of City Hall.

The water rights issue stems from a court ruling in 2012 by a federal judge in Portland who determined that the Penobscots have sustenance fishing rights along the river, but do not own it or have regulatory control over its waters. The case has been the subject of ongoing appeals since then.

Mills said she supports the rights of First Nations people throughout Maine, but also supports the judge’s decision in the case – placing her at odds with the activists.

“This is a very small minority among a larger population that I respect a great deal,” Mills said following the rally.

As the confrontation went on, allies of Mitchell and people who had gathered earlier for the anti-Trump rally jostled for position at the top of the steps. It did not become physical, but members of each group faced each other down, shouted and pointed fingers.

Mills at times tried to start chants to drown out the interruption. She also tried to defuse the situation before charging through the rest of her prepared remarks below the din of the protesters.

“Don’t be rude,” Mills told them, her voice booming through the public address system. “Let’s not yell, folks.”

Mitchell stood in front of Mills as she spoke, and refused to back down as people from the crowd booed, jeered and hurled insults.

Although Mitchell declined to be interviewed after the rally, she provided a brief written statement later to the Maine Sunday Telegram.

“The truth is, Attorney General Janet Mills is trying to steal the rights to the Penobscot river, from my people,” Mitchell said. “The State of Maine took our land, our children, and now they want to take the river. We are people of the river, our lives are interwoven with its fate. Just like it’s every Mainer’s responsibility to hold their leadership accountable, it is my responsibility to stand for the water, for Nebi,” she said, using the Penobscot word for water.

Organizers of the rally allowed a member of the Penobscot group to read statement after Mills had concluded her remarks.

“We do not want to fund another treaty breach with our tax dollars and believe that the native peoples of the state of Maine deserve their dignity and health,” the statement said.

Marie Follayttar Smith, an organizer of the anti-Trump rally and a member of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, said she offered one of Mitchell’s allies a slot during the rally to address the crowd but Mitchell declined. Mitchell did not respond to follow-up questions sent to her via email.

Mills said she did not expect to be the subject of a protest when she sought to deliver remarks about President Trump on Saturday.

“The focus of this rally, this march, is demanding an independent investigation into the ties between the Russian government, Russian businesses and the Trump administration and the Trump campaign,” Mills said. “That is still is the focus of this rally.”

Half a dozen speakers took turns assailing Trump for what they described as rampant family patronage, corporate cronyism and deliberate lying by the young administration. Protesters held signs calling for Trump to release his tax returns. Others placards bore the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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