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Program 8: People of the Dawn

Recent History : Mary Philbrook

Mary Philbrook Interview
February 11, 2003


Oh the growth and expansion since recognition has been tremendous. And I think sometimes in looking at how far we've come in such a short amount of time. I know that in most respects we are still very young as in that aspect of Federal recognition we're still very young and still have a long ways to go. It's not without it's difficulties.

But to see a building evolve involve a lot of people's hard work and efforts. The health department and now an on-site clinic, The housing units and the expansion of property and those kinds of things. Those are all wonderful things happening. But we're still not without a struggle and not without frustrations. And it's just taking into account this is, this building is a wonderful building. And it's compared to where we were operating on Main St., a small Main St. office and before that it was an even smaller office upstairs in another building. This is tremendous for us. This is to have a library, a computer lab for our kids, resources available, housing more then a few staff under one roof instead of spread out all over. This is a real blessing and it's just, it's not without its problems and just like anything else in any community. You're gonna have struggles and frustrations and I think keeping a handle on it and looking ahead to the future and what's in store. It's only gonna make it better.

If you're focusing on what is good for the whole, if you're looking at what's good, what's gonna benefit the whole community. And reaching out to get them the resources that they need and trying to make their lives a little bit better. This is great.

It's still, it's, I only live like 5 minutes down the street. I mean this is great to. When, I'm walking down the street and I look up at this building and what a feeling. This building has been a long time coming. And it's something that a lot of people put a lot of hard work into to get it developed, to get it built and to maintain it and keep it maintained to the best of our ability.

Well it was a part of the initial process. I guess the Aroostook Micmac Council was established in 1982 with a very small handful of people, elders deciding what they needed to do after 1980 Land Claims had taken place. The State Department of Indian Affairs had shut down. I guess there were a lot of questions that people needed answered and what steps were they going to take to get us to that point in time at the federal recognition level.

And so I kind of came into it a couple of years after the fact. And in trying to achieve that goal on behalf of the Micmac and working with a lot of different people. And the board of directors at the time, you had elders, you had the community looking and working together to achieve that goal with Pinetree Legal and anthropologists. See that's was built on and on. There were a lot of different people involved and they're making that obtaining, the support you needed to get there and making free resources and maintaining office space and just to pay the light bill and to provide you with office supplies. So at that point in time becoming involved there's a lot of research and a lot of people involved and getting us to a state level where that needed to go first and looking for community support in and around Aroostook County. The Congressional support, so it really was a lot of work of a lot of people.

Remembering my first, I was just remembering my first trip to Washington DC scared, very scared and nervous and taking that stand and taking that step with an elder and a younger person with me for support and the help that I needed. And standing in front of that Senate select community on Indian affairs the testimony was mind boggling, nerve shattering experience I have ever had, but still exciting at the thoughts of where we were going. This is, this is the way things work here. But knowing what I represented, who did I represent and the people that were counting on me doing this. So it was exciting, but it was scary and you know I think about where it was then and how far we've come since that point. It's incredible and the leadership that has taken us to that big step and to recognition and sovereignty.

Not even thinking about that at the time. Thinking about when in part. Making sure that the testimony not only for me that from the anthropologists and the attorneys or whatever taken to make sure that made an impact to put across to that committee how important it was, where we had come from. That we had indeed established ourselves and documented the fact that we were indeed in the State of Maine for hundreds of years and this is where we were. This is where our families were and had been at one time. And you know saying you know there was exclusion here. We were kind of left out of that process and all along this is what we had to achieve ourselves. So it did. It was, not realizing until after at that point in time this indeed is history. This is history making and every step beyond that point.

Even this building is all now a part of history. This is the work of a lot of people and needs to be documented and I know in some aspects it has. So this is, everything that we're doing now past recognition is all part of history and it's making history. And getting us another step closer to something else that will soon be history. So this is, is all good. Almost, one for the books it's for us as Micmacs. For us as individual Micmacs and as a tribe, as a band.

I think because I wasn't active within that function when it all began. I think there were different needs that were being met now. The State Department of Indian Affairs had shut down. The land claims were being finalized. What were the Micmacs to do? And like I say with a hand full of people and I believe a monetary donation, all monetary donations from an Indian had started that process. We were excluded now, this is what we need to do. This is where we need to be. We were kind of left out of the process. So let's make sure that the work gets done so that it establishes that yes, Micmacs were here too and we're a part of the State of Maine's history as far back as it goes.

Well I don't know a lot about it. I think it was, I don't know the individuals name. There are 2 elders. Both had served as President of board of directors of the Aroostook Micmac Council. Got together, there was a small group that met up at the side of the lake a Seneca Indian was there and gave $25 or something like that. I really don't know the details. I wish I could tell you more. But that's how the Aroostook Micmac Council started with that group of people. And no place to operate, no office space.

So primarily the Aroostook Micmac Councils office was funded by the Administration of Native Americans, a funding source out of DC. And because one of the criteria was you didn't have to be a fully recognized tribe to obtain funding and that's what kind of got rent money and office supplies and telephones and so that process had begun.

I believe the anthropologist and his wife a historian were there as part of that first meeting and realizing I think, the Micmacs were realizing what had just taken place and what was going to be done from that point. So Don Senapass and his family and I know that you've probably talked with or at least met with him or members of his family on different aspects. I know that they've done different things and Paul Phillips was former president as the board of directors. He played a big part in that. So it's like I said it was not just any one. It was a lot of different people from a lot of different families doing that work. And that worked was not paid positions. They were unpaid positions and people would volunteer to put community functions together or whatever, did it on their own you know. It wasn't something that you could take a paycheck out and pay for the food or whatever. It was potluck or whatever it took to get people together and provide them a meal. So that these are the next steps. Where is it gonna take us? So it's, it was, it wasn't any one. I think it's just a lot of different families that kept the recognition process going.

Well, actually at that point in time there was no Aroostook Micmacs when the land claims had taken place. As part of, this is kind of like my mom's question because they were part of Maliseets and the Micmacs were part of one organization, the Association of Aroostook Indians at the time. And I remember as a young teen going with my mom to some of these meetings and different things, but not really understanding what is fully going on. And so there's a gap there of course being a teen was something I really didn't want a part of is getting into the politics. I was too busy interested in other things.

So that's kind of my mom question or members of that generation that could tell you and describe what exactly happened at that land claims, after the land claims had taken place. It's just understanding that Micmacs were not included in that process and that, under that exclusion could not take advantage of the different things that were going to happen at that point in time. And so I think that's, that's why that small group, lead elders or whatever had decided this is where we've got to go next. And launched the Aroostook Micmac Council Incorp.

The hurdles one being monetary. We didn't have a lot of money to go out and do things with. We needed to reach people and meet with people gaining that support and creating a support network to get you to where you needed to be. Looking for selectmen or city counselors and the Congressional delegation and the local and state government levels. You didn't have money for attorneys that could do all that, a lot of that work for you. And trying to maintain a central place, a functional place where you could hold your board meetings and to have phones available to you, fax machine or a copier to do for you what you needed to do.

That's one of the biggest hurdles I think was the monetary support because you needed that to go out and get that other support that you needed. And it took a lot of word of mouth. It took a lot of phone calls. It took a lot of people using their vehicles and getting out and meeting with other people. You'd be there when you had a chance to meet with selectmen and city councilmen and it's, it's having to actually go out and do that leg work. And, but it was worth it in the sense that if you gained that support or as you're creating that support network you're getting that one step closer.

Educating your local communities. This is who we are. They know we're in their community. But it's educating us, this is who we are. We do live, we work and we die in your community. This is what we contribute to your community. So I think that, that was a lot of the process is educating. And as things change and they progress you have new councilmen, your selectmen, your Congressional delegation.

So that's always been a hurdle and still is today as you, as elections come and go you have individuals you need to get in touch with and keep in touch with to this is who we are. This is where we come from. So it's always a learning process. We talked about that earlier.

The learning process goes in a circle and it keeps on going. So every time the cycle changes it's like, you have to do this again. So there's always a lot of hurdles. There's always sometimes 2 steps back and 1 forward. You just, it's everything that you do. You're going to, I should come up again with something. So you kind of have to stop, educate maybe yourself or others, we don't know. But there's always a step you have to take. And sometimes your alone taking.

Yes exactly. One of the things I think too is not only that frustration, but one of the things that we looked at initially I think as people were developing the Aroostook Micmac Council was the Bureau of Indian Affairs had what they called federal acknowledgement process FAP is the acronym. And through that process tried, we'd go through this process to get a recognition status and I think there were a lot of tribes from what I understand that spent years and years and years under this process of trying to achieve that goal. And the advantage and we really thought we may have had to consider that except being excluded under the land claims allowed us to go through the Legislative process rather than the FAP process. And kind of giving us an advantage I think. Although it didn't seem so at the time because there were just too many other things. But had given us that advantage in the Legislative process to achieve that goal a little bit quicker. It could have actually taken many, many years.

Actually we were thinking it stood, still might have after that first disappointment of not getting, not getting our testimony through the first time around. So it was definitely a down point. But the advantage I think and I know that some tribes have taken advantage of the Legislative process if they could. It's not, it's not easily available. It can obtainable I think for some tribes who were struggling still today and have been for years and years trying to get through this process. So we did have that slight advantage and we're very thankful for that I think because it got us to our goal that little bit quicker. I tell you at the time it didn't seem like it was very quick because it just, because it just seemed so drawn out and sometimes repetitive in having to go over the same things again and again. You did what you had to do. If you had in your mind a focus of what goal you had to reach and for whom did this benefit and I think that's what kept everybody going.


No, actually the first time that we testified and failed was 89'. We submitted, that's a problem huh? There's gonna be a problem.

89', yeah I believe it was 89' that we did an initial testimony. And then we submitted testimony in 90'.

I don't know actually and I almost think someone was there with cameras but...

It's hard for me, hard for me to remember because I just remember at the time sitting at that table I couldn't, I didn't dare look anywhere else. It was, I don't know who was there except for who was there with me at the table.

I had written testimony in front of me and touching on the highlights of what we needed to say, but not taking up too much of the committees time. I was making sure that what we were saying was being heard and the strong points were being given and put on record.

We succeeded, yes we did.

That was initially that was the Senate select committee on Indian affairs. Senator Daniel Inoue I believe that first time around. And apparently the committees where there other then him, I'm gonna say 4 or 5, but I don't remember. I just remember you know how sometimes you look at something like you're on TV and see this court and you see this small little table and you see this huge, huge judges desk or whatever, that's just what it felt like to me. I felt like this very small little person. I was looking very far up.

Senator Inoue was wonderful. Very understanding and very to the point. You could tell he had been in the realm for sometime and he knew what he was doing. Told him how I admired and respected him as I did a lot of wonderful, wonderful leaders. In their native culture they're coming and now sitting in those Congressional offices. That's a hard goal to achieve. So I highly respect them. They're just incredible. All the wonderful ladies and wonderful tribal leaders that are women and I really look, look to them for the experience and the wisdom. As I said we've got our teachings everyone and most of them have been in it for a while. They have a lot to offer.


We're moving forward and new leadership, as your leadership changes different things happen and things change. You expand, you grow and I think, I think you're right in the sense that it's just a matter of going forward with what directions are you going to go. You want to see the best that benefits the community as a whole. You want to see their lives improve. You want to see your children's lives, your grandchildren's lives improve. And knowing that what you're doing is actually having an impact 7 generations down the road. And the different are the decisions that you're making now are going to have on that 7th generation and where you're going to be in that time.

So I think the tribal leadership and not just ours, anybody's should be looking ahead. You have to be a visionary. You have to, you have to know what's going to be good for your community and so your tribe will do what, will make the decision for what's best for your community not only now, but your future generations to come.

The people of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the former Aroostook Micmac Council I think has and always should be the focus of what goes on in the tribal community. The different things now that we have going on how this building has grown and allowed us to open a small library and museum and a computer lab available to the children. To an annual mawiomi or pow wow every summer that brings people from all over. Introduces and reintroduces traditional culture.

I think what we do and the decisions you make now impact on your community not only now but 7 generations down the road when your looking at tradition and looking at culture. I think that it's having to be a visionary and looking ahead to what is, what are the greatest benefits for your community not only as a leader, but as an individual with things that staff that works here each and every day. Micmac or other native or non-Indian do their job to what is best for your community. that's what they're here for. this is what we've got to look ahead to.

I guess you think that once you've reached that point you don't have to struggle so hard, but you still do. You have to get to that next step and whatever it takes because as long as you maintain that goal when you're looking at who is it going to benefit that majority as a whole of your community. You're gonna do what it takes and then you can work that much harder to see that happen. Maybe not, not be your tenure. It might not be in your administration. It'll be in the next tribal leaders administration. But at least you've had your foot in the door and you started something early. So I guess that's the way I look at it. This is, it might have been history, but it's all for the future. It's where it's going.


The tribe has adopted a membership ordinance to help establish its criteria and outline what is necessary and required of an individual who's applying for membership. And there are different things in, in the constitution that allows individuals to, so they won't be disappointed in any decision that is being made. This is the process that it goes through. The applications submitted with their documentary first ensures that the required documentation is with that application and it goes through a screening process and membership committee and tribal council. And then by resolution as I understand then individuals are added. So to become a member you're establishing your ancestry. You're looking at showing this is your, this is your family tree. This is where your family comes from. This establishes your Micmac heritage. There are different ways to do that. There's different resources available to do that and it's not easy for everyone. It's very difficult for some. I think it's not having just pull the records that they need or for some reason they can't obtain. So it's, we try to give applicants different resources to look at, go through, to phone. But the burden of proof is on the individual applicant.

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Institute of Museum and Library Services