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Hundreds rally over clean drinking water for the Passamaquoddy people

A bill in the legislature aims to give Passamaquoddy people at Pleasant Point jurisdiction over their drinking water, which they say has been contaminated for years.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The call for clean drinking water for a tribe in Washington County continued in Augusta on Monday. 

Hundreds packed outside the Maine State House to call on the Legislature and Gov. Janet Mills to support a bill that aims to give the Passamaquoddy people jurisdiction over their drinking water. 

"What does that do to you when you can't even drink your own water?" Chief Elizabeth Dana of the Passamaquoddy people at Sipayik asked. 

Sipayik, also known as Pleasant Point, is a reservation in eastern Maine just outside of Eastport. Citizens there said their water has been contaminated for decades and often is discolored, carrying an odor.

"It's not acceptable. We're not happy with the current situation, and we want it changed," Dana said. 

During the rally, tribal leaders spoke outside the Maine State House. The Passamaquoddy people also performed songs and chants before walking past the Blaine House as the crowd called for the passage of LD 906.

The bill looks to give the Passamaquoddy people at Sipayik greater control over their drinking water. The bill's sponsor, Passamaquoddy Tribal Rep. Rena Newell, said that would be accomplished in three ways. 

First, the bill would exempt the Passamaquoddy Water District from property taxes. Newell said that would align the water district with others in the state, which are not required to pay property taxes. 

Second, the bill would allow the tribe to acquire two parcels of land near Pleasant Point, to use as alternatives for clean water access by building wells on the land. 

Lastly, the bill would give the Passamaquoddy Tribe an opportunity to build capacity for safe drinking water and regulate its drinking water under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in coordination with the federal government.

"We would be able to regulate our own water on our own land. That's all we want to do," Dana said.

"The tribes need an opportunity to regulate their own drinking water to improve it, to be responsible to the water," Wabanaki Public Health co-CEO Lisa Sockabasin said. 

Tribal leaders said the bill is expected to be voted on this week. In March, the bill received a split vote in the Judiciary Committee. 

"LD 906 is the product of careful analysis crafted by the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik to deal with multiple aspects of the unacceptable drinking water situation endured by Sipayik residents for decades. Sipayik calls upon Gov. Mills to support this bill as presented," Newell said.

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