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Chief aims to bridge tribal generation gap [archive]

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Chief aims to bridge tribal generation gap

Pledging to bridge a gap between tribal elders and youth, Chief Melvin Francis accepted leadership Saturday during a traditional inauguration.After nearly a decade out of public office, Francis was elected chief in September. Also elected were Mark Altvater as lieutenant governor and Dale Mitchell and Philip Farrell Jr., tribal councilors.

Frederick Moore IIII of Pleasant Point was elected tribal representative to the Legislature.

"The old tribal chief has transferred the power to the new tribal chief," Francis said, speaking first in Passamaquoddy, then in English. "At this time I will take the wampum belt to each of the council and give them their rights as our leaders of the Passamaquoddy Tribe."

Francis then moved from lieutenant governor to tribal councilors, to empower each of them in their leadership roles.

The chief said that as new leaders they were there to represent all tribal members. "It is a longing for my people and the area ... that makes me come back, but most of all the people that cried out for me to come back is the reason too of why I came back," he said.

Francis said he wants to bridge the gap between tribal elders and the youth so they again will trust one another. "I think a lot of the young kids don't understand the elders, and I think the elders don't understand the kids," he said. "We should all sit down and talk to each other."

The new chief also said a primary goal is for everyone to work together for the reservation. "Some of the things I want to do is create economic development for the tribe. We know federal funds are leaving us gradually, so we need to have some sort of base to take care of our needs here on the reservation," he said.

Among the challenges is building a multimillion-dollar hotel-casino complex in southern Maine, a proposal that has encountered opposition from some communities.

The Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Nation are seeking state support for such an enterprise. If successful, the Passamaquoddy hope to build a satellite hotel-casino complex in Calais.

Francis said he also hopes to build partnerships with neighboring communities - Eastport, Perry and Calais - to spur joint economic development projects that would benefit all communities.

He also said it was important to develop ties with tribal elders so they would have one voice. "As tribal chief, I would like to have the elders meet with me sometime and have them empowered," Francis said. "I think it is time for the elders to stand up and say this is what we want and this is what we should do."

The drug problem also will be a major priority. During the past three years, the Pleasant Point Police Department has mounted a major campaign to eliminate illegal use of prescription drugs, including OxyContin and Dilaudid, on the reservation. "We have a lot of police officers that are on the job investigating a lot of these crimes. Of course we can't stop all of the crimes because of the influx that comes in from outside our jurisdiction," he said.

Francis said that he wants his police department to confer with Maine State Police and the Washington County Sheriff's Department to "start a partnership program here and see if we can work together to resolve these problems that we have."

Francis pointed to the reservation's elementary school as a positive sign. "We have a lot of individuals in the school system teaching our native language. I am impressed with the younger generation today because they speak it so fluently, they write it," he said. "I am glad some of the older people have taken the initiative to do this."

With the Little Eagle drummers playing traditional Passamaquoddy songs in the background, the new chief led the tribal members in traditional dances.

--written by Diana Graettinger, Bangor Daily News

Additional Reading

 Indian Culture
 The Passamaquoddy
 Maine language

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