Document Type

Honors Thesis




Darren Ranco

Committee Members

Christine Beitl, Hugh Curran, Kiley Daley, Lisa Neuman

Graduation Year

May 2022

Publication Date

Spring 5-2022


Since the arrival of Europeans in North America, Native Americans have been enticed into deceptive treaties and agreements that dispossessed them of their land, significantly alter their autonomy, and infringed on their sovereign rights. Sticking with this tradition, the State of Maine, today, is apprehensive to recognize Wabanaki sovereign rights, as guaranteed in federal Indian law. The rights and benefits that tribes have in other states, such as federal legislation regarding tribal healthcare, are withheld from Wabanaki Nations. This trepidation leaves Maine’s Native peoples vulnerable to political exploitation and environmental degradation. I endeavor to understand how Maine’s Land Claims Settlement acts limit the Penobscot Nation’s authority to protect their land and resources and how this has affected the lives of tribal members. The Penobscot River’s water quality is detrimentally impacted by industries along the river - notably by landfill leachate and industrial effluent. Discharge into navigable waters is regulated by the permitting authority, the Maine Pollution Discharge and Elimination System (MEPDES) - an authority delegated to the State by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The State is thus able to enforce water quality standards (WQS) of its choosing, as long as they uphold federal minimum quality standards. This authority, however, is moot as the State’s WQS do not protect Penobscot sustenance fishing rights, rights that are legislated in the Maine Implementing Act (MIA) and Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (MICSA). This has engendered consumption advisories, preventing the safe consumption of fish by Penobscot Nation tribal members. This abrogation of traditional rights represents a lack of consideration for tribal rights in Maine, as well as the prevailing interests of industry and consumerism. This thesis addresses the potential avenues available to Wabanaki Nations such as the Penobscot Nation to restore their environmental authority, take advantage of future federal legislation, as well as the importance of Indigenous voices in public environmental policy.