Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Liberal Studies


Richard W. Judd

Second Committee Member

Lisa K. Neuman

Third Committee Member

James Acheson


The Penobscot River is polluted, obstructed, and in short supply of aquatic life, which has diminished the Penobscot Nation’s aboriginal fishing rights and compromised their cultural identity, as a result of their inability to utilize their sacred river. The destruction of aboriginal fishing rights and other forms of river use stems from years of industrial use by the forest product industry and from the priority the state of Maine assigned to such uses during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Forest product industries have dominated the Penobscot and have been heavily supported because of the economic development and industrialization they provide. This type of river use has diminished other uses, including recreational and local fisheries, in addition to the Penobscot Nation’s aboriginal fishing rights. Although the state of Maine responded to the declines in local fisheries along the river, their conservation efforts aimed at preserving and protecting fish populations through remedial methods that restricted fishermen, neglecting curbs on big industry and their pollution until relatively recently. This demonstrates a long-standing conservation policy rooted in industrial preference and economic self-interest that has contributed to the current state of the river. These conservation policies have changed significantly, and today national policies address industrial pollution and river restoration. Still, Maine continues to maintain its economic best interest by reducing tribal sovereignty and thwarting Native attempts to reestablish their cultural practices. Contemporary events revolving around tribal documents and water quality continue to reduce tribal sovereignty. However, the Penobscot Nation continues to demand recognition of their sovereignty and is utilizing cooperative conservation both to achieve a cleaner river and to solidify their sovereignty. Their participation in cooperative conservation efforts, such as the Penobscot River Restoration Project, is integral to the success of this restoration project and the reclamation of their cultural identity and sovereignty.