AUGUSTA, Maine — It may not be a big stream, but for Henry John Bear, the renaming of B Stream in Houlton has big meaning.
Bear, who grew up in Lewiston, is the nonvoting tribal member of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians in the Maine House of Representatives.
On Friday, he said a resolution that was passed by the Maine House and the Senate to rename B Stream as Captain Ambrose Bear Stream is long overdue recognition of the role one of his ancestors played in the American Revolution.
B Stream feeds into the Meduxnekeag River, which flows through Houlton.
The resolution requires the Maine Department of Transportation to replace an interstate sign with the new name. The measure also requires the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Aroostook County Commission to update their records and documents to reflect the new name.
Ambrose Bear was a Maliseet chief in 1777, and historical records show he served under Col. Jonathan Eddy, an officer in George Washington’s Continental Army.
Bear is credited for his efforts during the Second Battle of Machias, in which he and other members of the tribe were among the soldiers who fended off an attack of British war ships on the town in what is thought to be one of the first naval engagements of the war.
According to the historic records, Bear led a party of 100 canoes and was instrumental in beating back the British as they sought to attack Machias with war ships.
Bear also was credited with serving in a raid on British-held Nova Scotia a year earlier.
Henry John Bear said as other state lawmakers were making requests to rename bridges for other Mainers who played significant roles in the state’s military history, he felt it was fitting to have the stream in Houlton renamed for an American Indian.
Bear, who said he was cared for by four foster families before returning to the Maliseet Band as an adult, said he’s proud the measure was passed by the Legislature.
“I said, ‘Let’s put a tribal bill that would honor a legitimate Maliseet leader who contributed during the Revolutionary War as well,’” said Bear, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Bear said his ancestor Ambrose Bear “arrived just in time to defend Machias from being obliterated by four British War ships.”
Henry John Bear said he recently discovered written records of Ambrose Bear’s role confirmed in long told oral histories of the former chief’s exploits.
Henry John Bear said the effort may seem like a small gesture, but it highlights the role he and other tribal representatives play in Maine’s state government.
“The two main things I’m here to do is to represent our government, our tribal perspective and to make sure we don’t slip into oblivion, that we are not invisible, we have a very relevant story,” Bear said.
He said the other objective for him is to look for ways to create jobs for tribal members and improve their community’s economy.
“To seek out opportunities to unite with other Mainers who have businesses to create jobs and generate revenues that we need to fund programs, government tribal programs that don’t have consistent funding,” Bear said.
Bear serves on the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which has oversight over the regulation of alcohol as well.
“Our family broke down because of alcohol,” Bear said. “So I’m conscious of the impacts of alcohol on lives, so this committee is relevant to me both because as a veteran and because of alcohol’s impact on my life and my family.”
The resolve to rename the stream will next go to Gov. Paul LePage, who will have to decide whether he will sign it into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.