From Indian Country Today, Dec. 16:
PORTLAND, Maine – American Indian leaders from four tribes in Maine met with representatives of the Venezuelan Embassy and became the first tribes in the nation to begin working out details for the delivery of low-cost heating oil to tribal members.
Aroostook Band of Micmacs Chief Bill Phillips praised Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for his offer to bring discounted heating oil to the United States, and Venezuelan Embassy officials for following through on Chavez’s offer.
“We appreciate Chavez trying to bring low-cost heating oil for our elderly. We’re thinking: He is a fellow Native from the Americas, and we appreciate his taking the time and effort to do some good,” Phillips told Indian Country Today.
Venezuelan Embassy officials met Dec. 13 with representatives of four tribes: the Aroostook Micmacs, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point and the Penobscot Indian Nation.
Phillips said Venezuelan Embassy officials held two separate meetings at the Portland International Jetport concerning the delivery of low-cost heating oil, one with Indian tribal leaders and another with Maine Gov. John Baldacci.
“It’s just the beginning steps; it will be a great help for our people. We are very encouraged. If this goes the way they say, it will be a godsend to our people,” Phillips said, pointing out that four tribal council members of the 1,000-member Aroostook Band met with Venezuelan and tribal representatives.
Calling it a “simple act of generosity,” Chavez earlier promised heating oil at a 40 percent discount to nonprofits, nursing homes and schools.
“We are set up as a nonprofit,” Phillips said of the tribe, which will work out the details for supply and delivery with the Venezuelan government.
Phillips said the Venezuelan Embassy has scheduled a meeting for Indian tribes to meet with the embassy in Washington, D.C. Jan. 18 – 19 and further discuss the delivery of low-cost heating oil to Northeast tribes.
Phillips said the Aroostook Micmacs, located in northern Maine, are the northernmost tribe in the United States. The area’s unpredictable weather can bring severe winters.
“We have our ups and downs; you can never tell what the weather will do,” Phillips said, adding that temperatures are regularly in the single digits and can dip below zero. With the wind chill, temperatures have plunged to 65 to 70 degrees below zero.
Phillips said the area already has a number of CITGO gas stations that are owned by Venezuela.
As for the other gas companies in the area, Phillips said the efforts are about keeping the people warm and stretching dollars, not politics.
“People may be taken back by it a little bit, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.
“Hopefully, on January 18 and 19 we’ll begin something that will work for years to come.”
Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said low-cost heating oil pilot projects in Boston and the Bronx began in November with 12 million gallons of heating oil. Ramirez said the cost to Venezuelan-owned CITGO Petroleum Corp. was $200 million.
Phillips said Venezuelan leaders have also invited Indian tribes to participate in a cultural exchange.
“I would happily go down to pay a visit,” said Phillips.
Robert Free Galvan, an American Indian activist in Seattle known for pitching his tipi on Alcatraz during the takeover of the island in the 1960s, organized efforts between Indian tribes and the government of Venezuela.
“The people of the United States should be very thankful to President Hugo Chavez for this offer. Chavez was the first to offer oil and gas after Hurricane Katrina struck,” Galvan said.
Galvan urged Indian tribes to assess their energy usage and try to determine who could distribute low-cost oil and gas on tribal lands and where. Further, he said tribes should inventory their ability to store and deliver oil and gas.
Galvan is now organizing an indigenous delegation to the World Social Forum in Venezuela, to be held during the third week of January. Western Shoshone, Lakota, Gwich’in and Ponca tribal members plan to attend if sponsors are located.