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Penobscot tribal leader Kirk Francis has redefined the “chief” in CEO.

By Cynthia Anderson
Photo: Bangor Daily News

There was controversy in the council chamber. Kirk Francis can’t remember the issue, but he clearly recalls the heat of the room and a sense that he was being criticized. Not that he was a stranger to Penobscot tribal polemics. He’d been elected to the council seventeen years earlier and knew that “people here are passionate.” Since then he had managed two businesses and worked several years in Connecticut. Now he was back home on Indian Island.

And he was chief. He’d campaigned on an open-door policy, which meant the sofa outside his office often held waiting constituents; he was putting in ten-hour days to push his economic development agenda; and he was sitting at the head of the table at Tuesday council meetings. Now, inside the council chamber, the temperature was rising. Francis was thirty-seven, but among the elders he sometimes felt like the boy he’d been, growing up on the island under their watch. In that moment, as debate swirled, he understood in real-time that being chief did not make him unassailable.


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Cynthia Anderson

Cynthia Anderson is a journalist, essayist, and fiction writer whose story collection River Talk was named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2014.

  • Being of Mic Mac descent. My great grandmother was of the Mic Mac Tribe, I am glad to see that you not only are working to bring economic growth and development, but also trying to keep the ways as well. I now live in Virginia, and do not get up to Maine. When I was a child and through my teen years we were up there all the time. I miss not being in touch with my tribe, as I was growing up. My parents made sure of that, I unfortunately lost a lot of the Native American in my life. Keep up the good work.