Election location talks turn sour

By Stephanie Grinnell | May 23, 2019
Photo by: Stephanie Grinnell Tarratine Club on Main Street in Belfast.

Belfast — For the past several election cycles, Belfast residents in Wards 1 through 4 have voted at the Boathouse, but traffic problems have prompted councilors to consider alternative locations.

At the top of the list is the centrally located Tarratine Hall on Main Street. While she does not object to the location itself, Mayor Samantha Paradis requested a conversation be opened with Native American representatives about how to respectfully refer to the structure.

"We were the first city to recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day; now the state has," she said. " ... I wonder as we move forward, if we can think about ways we can be respectful."

This request caused some confusion and consternation among councilors, including Neal Harkness.

"Is the mayor asking that the city go to a private organization and ask them to change the name of their organization?" he asked. "How should we refer to the hall if we are going to refer to it publicly? The name of the organization, whether we like it or not, is the International Order of Red Men.

" ... It's not a colloquialism, it's not slang, that is the name of the organization."

Harkness said it is not the city's place to tell a private organization what it can be called. If the mayor does not like the name, he asked, how should the city direct voters where to go?

"I'm not appreciating your aggression about this topic," Paradis responded.

"If you're not open to being questioned about the things to say here, perhaps you should not say them," Harkness shot back. " ... I don't care about being tone-policed, Madam Mayor. That is not your position. You do not have the power to police my tone."

"Well, this has gone further than I expected," Paradis said."I'm merely saying that I recognize that we have indigenous neighbors and that I do not believe that is respectful to be calling an organization or to name a building a Red Men's Hall when, in fact, it is not organized by indigenous people."

Paradis clarified that she does not expect the organization to change its name; she said she only hopes to find a mutually respectful way to reference the potential voting location.

"Keep in mind how most people know that building," Harkness urged.

Red Men Hall in Belfast is also commonly referred to as Tarratine Club or Tarratine Hall. Some refer to the structure as Cottle's — the building was formerly home to Cottle's Supermarket.

Councilor Mike Hurley noted some landmarks and sports teams have changed their names in recent years. But he noted the history of the organization, which goes back to the 1700s.

According to redmen.org, the official site of the organization, "the Improved Order of Red Men is a nonprofit organization devoted to inspiring a greater love for the United States of America and the principles of American liberty. Along with our women's auxiliary, the Degree of Pocahontas, we support various charitable, youth, and educational programs."

The website outlines the history of the organization founded in 1765 with ties to Sons of Liberty — most recognized for its involvement in the Boston Tea Party — that is a patriotic fraternity chartered by Congress. 

"After the War of 1812 the name was changed to the Society of Red Men and in 1834 to the Improved Order of Red Men," according to its history. "They kept the customs and terminology of Native Americans as a basic part of the fraternity. Some of the words and terms may sound strange, but they soon become a familiar part of the language for every member."

City Manager Joseph Slocum requested further clarification on Paradis' request.

"Are we asking if it's OK to use the building with that name?" he asked. "What are we asking?"

The mayor said she wants to open a conversation.

"How can we do this in a way that makes sense to be sensitive to the tribes?" Paradis said.

Councilors agreed a discussion is warranted, but not in the context of choosing an election location.

"Simply ask for an opinion and suggestions on how to deal with it if they do find it problematic," Harkness suggested to Slocum.

Councilor Eric Sanders said he supports using Tarratine Hall. He said he also likes City Hall as a voting location but understands the space limitations.

"If we have it up at whatever-we're-calling-it hall, parking is less of an issue," Sanders said. He later suggested looking into use of The Crosby as well as Tarratine Hall.

City Clerk Amy Flood was charged with exploring options in time for elections this November. She said she has a 90-day window before elections to change locations, so a decision must be made no later than August.

Regardless of the location chosen, Councilor Mary Mortier noted 90 days is not enough time to secure it.

"I do think it best to find out a sensitive way to refer to the building but the longer dialogue has to wait," she said.

Councilor Paul Dean agreed a location should be secured quickly.

"But the mayor makes a good point," he said. "I'd like to see another agenda item to talk further about this issue. ... I'd like to have an in-depth conversation about it."

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.