The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) is pleased to announce that Vera Francis of Perry has won NRCM’s 2010 People’s Choice Award, for her work protecting Passamaquoddy Bay.
NRCM’s People’s Choice is one of the organization’s Environmental Awards, which it gives each year to an individual or group whose actions have made a real difference at the local, regional, or state level in the protection of Maine’s environment. The People’s Choice Award provides an opportunity for citizens across the state to nominate someone in their community who has worked selflessly to protect a special place or otherwise has made a difference for Maine’s environment.
Vera Francis was nominated for her efforts to keep a liquefied natural gas (LNG) company out of Sipayik (Pleasant Point), Maine. Of several dozen people nominated for the award, Vera Francis rose quickly to the top as one of three finalists.
A life-long resident of Sipayik and a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, Francis has an intimate knowledge of and attachment to this region. The land and water for which the area is famous has tremendous cultural and spiritual significance to the Passamaquoddy people, who gather here to pray and partake of ceremonial traditions that go back centuries.
Francis has worked for many years to keep LNG out of an area that is so integral to their lives. As part of that effort, Francis established the nonprofit group N’tutlankeyutmonen N’kihtaqmikon, which, in the Passamaquoddy language, means, “We are taking care of our land.”
Vera’s persistence in ensuring that the decision-making process was open and responsive to the grassroots constituency resulted in a landmark ruling giving rights to tribal members themselves, not just the tribal governing body. This ruling, acknowledging that tribal people as individuals have standing, set an international precedent and gives voice to those whose concerns may otherwise be silenced.
Arguments have been made by a number of groups and individuals against LNG projects in the area. Fishermen and lobstermen make the point that the high tides and geological features of Passamaquoddy Bay make it unsafe for LNG tankers and would put their fishing livelihoods at risk. Others raise concerns about the impact LNG could have on tourism in the region. No voice, though, has been as powerful as the voice of Vera Francis. “Her skills as an educator have certainly helped Vera communicate about the heart of issue,” says NRCM Executive Director Brownie Carson. “But it is no doubt her passion and deep understanding of what’s at stake that people respond to. She is a strong and compelling advocate for this cause.”
Those who know Francis know her as determined yet as a person of great humility, unwilling to take as much credit as those she has worked with would give her. Her leadership, persistence, and passion have inspired others and are key to her accomplishments. “She has been a strong leader in a true citizens’ movement,” says Carson. “The same kind of movement from which NRCM grew more than 50 years ago, when a group of Maine people banded together to protect the Allagash. Vera perfectly exemplifies the primary reason why NRCM created the People’s Choice Award seven years ago. We could not be more pleased to be giving this award this year to Vera Francis.”