UNITY — Sherri Mitchell’s speech about supporting indigenous people’s rights and protecting the earth was compelling, but it was the end of her talk that left many in the audience speechless and tearful.

Mitchell, an indigenous-rights attorney, teacher and spiritual activist, addressed several hundred people Saturday at the Common Ground Country Fair, saying this has been a difficult year for her family.

In January, her cousin disappeared and was found dead in the Penobscot River. A week later, her nephew, who was a like a son, committed suicide.

Then at 2 a.m. Saturday, before she was to appear at the fair, another nephew took his own life, she said.

In Native American culture, the suicide rate is four times higher than the national average because of the unrelenting oppression people experience, according to Mitchell. Young people are not seeing a future for themselves because of repression and racism, she said.

Mitchell, who was born and raised on the Penobscot Indian reservation, asked the crowd to pray for her nephew’s father and little girl. She asked the audience to acknowledge that every life is valuable, and that people must connect with each other so that no one feels as if he or she is traveling alone.


“Acknowledge the preciousness of every, single life,” she said. “Please send prayers for the spirits of these lost young men.”

Mitchell, founding director of the Land Peace Foundation, an organization dedicated to protecting indigenous people’s rights and preserving their way of life, clearly was grieving. Her voice cracking. She asked each of those present to hold hands and look the next person in the eye.

“Tell them ‘you are precious, you are important, you matter’ – and give them a hug,” she said.

Mitchell is the 2010 recipient of the Mahoney Dunn International Human Rights and Humanitarian Award for research into human rights violations against indigenous people. She also received the Spirit of Maine Award in 2015 for commitment and excellence in the field of international human rights.

Before her talk and without immediately revealing why, Mitchell said Saturday was a challenging day for her.

“I wouldn’t have been here, except what we’re talking about today is important to me in a real heart-based way,” she said, adding that she wanted to honor the commitment she had made to fair attendees and share her world view about connecting to the land.


People were given the right to inhabit the earth and must live in harmony with it and respect it, according to Mitchell.

They must make conscious steps to honor the land and water they inhabit. Being complacent in the face of corporate greed and the destruction of the planet takes away our right to live on the planet, she said.

When her tribe decided the Penobscot River needed to be cleaned, members did not stand on a soapbox and complain about it. They worked in concert to take responsibility for cleaning it up, she said.

“We recognized if we wanted to claim rights for clean water for our people, then we had to take responsibility of cleaning the rivers for everyone.”

People must work together to create the kind of world they want to live in, focusing less on blaming others, she said.

Mitchell urged people to attend a harvest festival from noon to 8 p.m. on Oct. 15 that is being held as a fundraiser to help save Nibezun, a sacred ancestral land and healing center in Passadumkeag, in Penobscot territory.


After her talk, Kai Fast, 36, of Standish took a moment to reflect on what Mitchell had said.

“It’s very heavy. I feel very emotional right now,” said Fast, a project manager and designer for BrightBuilt Home of Portland which was exhibiting at the fair.

Fast said she loved hearing Mitchell’s thoughts and ideas about the interconnectedness of people and the earth, particularly in a world where people are so polarized. That polarization, Fast said, is fueled by the way people talk about hating others.

“Everyone’s hurting, and throwing stones at each other doesn’t help us to find solutions that will help everybody,” she said.

Thousands turned out in warm weather for the second day of the giant 41st Common Ground Fair, hosted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Food vendors sold seafood, Italian sausage, strawberry shortcake, honey buns and other fare. Big white tents were packed with exhibitors selling pottery, jewelry, woven goods, wood carvings, folk art, paintings and other items. Fairgoers flocked to the farmers market to buy fresh produce and herbs, and people lined a fenced-in area to watch the sheepdog demonstrations.


Under the Maine Fiddle Camp tent, people of all ages were singing. The music camp, in Montville, focuses on traditional Down East fiddling in a traditional Maine summer camp setting.

In Unity Hall, people were perusing photo and vegetable exhibits, patronizing the seed exchange and checking out the children’s apple pie contest.

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: AmyCalder17

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