Holy Road

Gale Courey Toensing
4/30/07

Michael Sockalexis, Penobscot leader, passes

INDIAN ISLAND, Maine - Michael Sockalexis, known for his vibrant and traditional Penobscot dance style and his lifelong involvement in American Indian issues, died April 22 at Bangor Hospital. He was 60 years old.

Sockalexis was born in Old Town, and worked across the United States with many tribal nations and the IHS.

He served as a Penobscot Nation tribal council and as tribal representative to the Legislature during its last session, but did not seek re-election last July because of health issues.

His death came as a blow both to the Native community and the state.

Paul Bisulca, Penobscot and the chairman of the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission, described his childhood friend.

''Mike's got a way about him that is very endearing and you'd really have to work hard not to like Mike Sockalexis. He's a really nice guy. He always was,'' Bisulca said. Bisulca spoke of his friend in the present tense, he said, because ''maybe I just haven't accepted that he's gone. It's such a shock; it's too hard to believe. He was too young and he was such a part of everything. He was very, very engaged in Indian issues. He thought a lot about his tribe and his people and worked very hard for them. He was just an all round great guy. To have him suddenly disappear or be absent from what's going on ... It takes a little while to get accustomed to the fact that he's no longer here,'' Bisulca said.

Sockalexis and Bisulca attended Indian Island School and Old Town High School together, and the two friends worked together on Indian issues in the state when Bisulca retired from the Army and came home.

''Mike never changed his personality. He stayed the same. Everyone in high school loved Mike. He was an avid runner. He was on the cross country team and the track team with me, and in fact the reason the Old Town High School track team did so well was because of its Indian contingent. There were a bunch of us, including Mike, that really won the points for the team. He was a great runner, a great person. He used to play the guitar and he played in a little band in Old Town,'' Bisulca said.

Sockalexis' love of sports led him to found the Andrew Sockalexis Track Club, which provided not only sporting events, but youth mentoring and health awareness.

Sockalexis' passing was announced in the Legislature April 23 by House Speaker Glenn Cummings, D-Portland.

''It is with truly heavy hearts that we received news of the loss of another legislative colleague and friend, Rep. Michael Sockalexis, today,'' Cummings said in a prepared statement reported by The Associated Press.

Earlier in April, funeral services were held for state Rep. Abigail Holman, a Republican from Fayette who was killed in a skiing accident.

''Mike was a proud representative of the Penobscot Indian Nation and a tireless advocate for the people he served. As a member of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, he worked very hard to ensure that Maine's seniors had access to affordable prescription drugs and more Maine people had access to quality, affordable health care,'' said Cummings.

Maine Gov. John Baldacci, who worked with Sockalexis during his legislative term, said he was ''deeply saddened'' at the news of Sockalexis' death.

''He was very wise and a great asset to the state. He was able to bring people together and was someone who others wanted to work with. We need more people like him in public service. He will be missed,'' Baldacci said.

Sockalexis is survived by his wife, Janet Ranco; three sons, Chris, Robert and Nathan Sockalexis; six grandchildren; a brother, Mark Ranco; and a sister, Marie Tomah.

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