In most places in Maine, the actions of one individual would not become a symbol for an entire community.
Unfortunately for Matinicus Island, that is precisely what has happened after island lobsterman Vance Bunker allegedly shot another island lobsterman, Chris Young, in the neck (see “Shooting shocks Matinicus community). State marine patrol officers said the shooting was the result of a territory dispute between lobstermen. Since it is summer and we are in midst of one of the worst lobster season’s in recent history, the incident set off a frenzy of speculation and stereotyping.
This is not a new phenomenon for Matinicus residents, but it was surprising how quickly the old clichés appeared. Matinicus is the “Wild West” the home of “pirates” and warring lobstermen. Others said it was the recession and a lousy lobster season that provoked the dispute. Outsiders, who don’t live on Matinicus, quickly jumped to conclusions with little knowledge of islanders or the island.
What gets lost in all this rhetoric is the island community itself. Islanders are the ones working to overcome this crisis. Suzanne Rankin, a Matinicus School Board member, described the shooting as “a family tragedy because we are all one family. We’re involved by virtue of living here, even if we’re not related to one another.”
Rankin also described the pain of a normally peaceful community coming to terms with this violent act, and said, “We’re no different than any town anywhere.”
This shooting was reprehensible-that goes without saying. Settling lobster disputes with vandalism and violence is obviously not the answer. But the answer will involve an agreement, sanctioned by the community, on the process of deciding who gets to lobster on Matinicus.
It makes no sense to brand an entire community based on the misguided actions of a few. Islanders will rise to meet this challenge, as they have coped with other challenges in the past, regardless of how they are perceived on the mainland.