I am a Native person. I was born into the Penobscot Nation and the Passamaquoddy Tribe, and take an affirmed pride in my culture and my people.

I have lived in Maine for 29 years and eternally love this state. Until recently, I hadn’t shared many people’s outrage at Gov. Paul LePage and the way he has taken to running it.

I have time and again defended the governor to people who have spoken out against him in my presence, even though I consider myself to be liberal minded.

I defended him because he had done several things to help better the relations between the tribes and the state, including issuing the August 2011 executive order that states “the unique relationship between the State of Maine and the individual Tribes is a relationship between equals.”

The governor’s actions these past few days seem abrupt, like those of an angry child so quick to take away something that was given. The reasoning appears to be because he can’t handle that our nations are trying to push for conditions to be met, and our voices to be heard.

This rescission of the 2011 executive order comes at a critical time. Maine tribes have just met with the Skowhegan school board to try to convince the people of the town to change the mascot of Skowhegan Area High School. And there’s also the ongoing fight with the Washington National Football League team.

I am proud to be who I am, but alone, without my tribe, I feel vulnerable. I grew up on the Penobscot reservation and was afraid to leave it because of the way I thought I would be treated. Off the reservation from a very young age, I have experienced a considerable amount of racism directed toward myself and my people. I am light-skinned and therefore can assimilate easily into white society. I shouldn’t have to.

If I meet people who haven’t met a Native person before, almost the first question they ask when they realize my race is, “How much are you?” The question isn’t, “What tribe are you from?” Instead, they want to know my percentage of Native American blood.

At this point, I become a novelty for them. I am suddenly being asked questions I don’t want to answer, things that a normal person would never ask another person of color. But the sad truth is that we are not considered people.

Traveling to places near reservations, I am even more reluctant to be found out, because in many cases people there have a hostility toward Native people. In these areas, we aren’t a novelty; we are a problem, something to be dealt with — “some thing,” not someone.

In these cases we are not people, we are a nuisance. Like with the Washington football team and many other mascots where Natives are depicted, we lose our humanity. I am so very tired of not feeling like a person, feeling like I am apart from everyone else in this nation.

Native people are uniquely treated, because for most people we either exist only in poorly informed textbooks, or as a small group that needs to be “handled.” It seems as though there aren’t enough of us to make an impact and have our voices heard.

In a time when people are shouting that black lives matter, we are still shoved aside and told to shut up and deal with things like the rescission of the governor’s order. When will we matter? When will we be considered someone and not some thing?

What the state of Maine needs is to avoid severing this relationship that we finally were able to build. It has taken hundreds of years to be able for us to finally be treated as we should be and only three years for it to be taken away. I don’t think that I can express enough how hurt I feel about this entire situation.

Carter E. Cates of Indian Island is a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Nation.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under:

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.