On December 16, 2015, Judge Singal issued his decision in the Penobscot Indian Nation v. Mills lawsuit, in which the Penobscot Indian Nation (PIN) had claimed that their reservation included the entire main stem of the Penobscot River. In his order, Judge Singal unequivocally denied that claim, ruling that the PIN reservation does not include any portion of the Penobscot River, only the islands themselves. This means that the PIN cannot regulate non-tribal discharges to the river, or other activities in and on the river. While Judge Singal ruled that the PIN has sustenance fishing rights in the river, the PIN will not have jurisdiction over the river.
The basis for Judge Singal’s ruling that the PIN Reservation does not include any portion of the Penobscot River was the plain language of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act and the Maine Implementing Act (aka, the “Settlement Acts”):
“In short, the Court concludes that the plain language of the Settlement Acts is not ambiguous. The Settlement Acts clearly define the Penobscot Indian Reservation to include the delineated islands of the Main Stem, but do not suggest that any of the waters of the Main Stem fall within the Penobscot Indian Reservation. That clear statutory language provides no opportunity to suggest that any of the waters of the Main Stem are also included within the boundaries of the Penobscot Indian Reservation.”
Order, page 56.
Although Judge Singal wrote (pages 50-51) that he was “not resolving the right to regulate water sampling or the right to regulate discharges by towns or non-tribal entities that currently discharge into the Penobscot River,” he in fact did resolve that issue by ruling that the PIN Reservation does not include any portion of the river. This is an important victory in upholding the terms of the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act, and hopefully it will put to rest, once and for all, the efforts to undermine the Settlement Acts and create the “nation within a nation” construct that the Settlement Acts were intended to avoid.