Listening and Learning Sessions with the Sipayik Passamaquoddy at Pleasant Point


Seminar on Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act


First Light Learning Journey – December 10-12   

Just a few trip notes from Susan Caldwell @ The Nature Conservancy (not by any means complete!)

Indian Island – Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act

December 10, 2018

Present: Maria Girouard (Penobscot), Shiwa Noh (Nibezun Board), Tim Shay (Nibezun Board), Carol Dana (Penobscot), Peter Forbes, Brian Wentzell, Jerry Bley, Steve Tatko, Eric Topper, Stefan Jackson, Lissa Widoff, Erica Kaufman, Kristin Peet, Ciona Ulbrich, Lucy McCarthy, Buck O’Herin, Patrick Watson, Catherine Schmidt, Aaron Englander, Aaron Mequier and Susan Caldwell


We gathered at Indian Island to discuss the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (MICSA). Peter welcomed all and introduced Maria who is a Wabanaki historian and former Penobscot tribal council member. She focused on the MICSA for her master’s thesis. Maria provided some information regarding the conditions leading to the passage of the Act and its impact on the Indians in Maine since its passage in 1980. These notes below capture some of the discussion over the course of her remarks, input from others and questions from First Light participants.

    • It’s all about the land! Indians in Maine began losing their lands in the 1600s and continued to do so over the next three centuries despite several promises and treaties.
    • Land transactions transferring land from Indians to others should have been ratified by Congress since 1820, but that was never put into practice. Chief Orono had agreed to fight in the Revolutionary War in exchange for assurance of access to lands for hunting.
    • Cultural and political conditions in the 1960s and 1970s led to enabling conditions for the passage of this legislation. At that time Indians in Maine were trapped in a paternalistic relationship with the State of Maine that kept them oppressed and powerless.
    • In the 1820s there were 3 cases known as the Marshall Trilogy that impacted the relationship between Federal Government and the Tribes. There was a great deal of fighting between Tribes for land ownership.
    • Tom Tureen was young attorney who contributed time and legal strategy to enacting the legislation.
    • There was discussion of the legal strategy at the time and consideration that the Tribes could potentially go for taking back two-thirds of the state but decided against this approach due to a greater risk of losing all.
    • There have been other native land claims legislation all over the country at the time and there was a federal deadline set in July 1980 to decide regarding setting the claims, which gave a sense of urgency.
    • The claim began in Passamaquoddy territory and then included Penobscot Indians as well. Micmac and Maliseet Indians did not have a seated government at the time and were not included originally.
    • [Excerpt from web search on MICSA: MICSA extinguished all aboriginal title in Maine. In return, the Act allocated $81.5 million. $27 million was placed in trust for the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes, and the remaining $55 million was allocated towards the tribes’ purchase of up to 300,000 acres of land. The land acquisition funds were divided such: $900,000 for the Houlton Maliseet; $26.8 million for the Passamaquoddy; and $26.8 million for the Penobscot. Further, the Houlton Maliseet gained federal recognition (which the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot had possessed since 1976). Micmac were not included. Their land claims have never been addressed and they didn’t receive federal recognition until 1991.]
    • MICSA still maintains somewhat of a paternalistic relationship as Tribes need to ask permission from Federal Government. Indians seek sovereignty and the right to govern themselves and care for the health and welfare of their people. It’s hard to step into sovereignty from a place of poverty and oppression.
    • There was a working group set up in 2006 to work on amending the 1980 Act, but it did not lead to any legislative changes.
    • There was a real sense of urgency to get the MICSA passed. It was a huge document and there was a rush to complete negotiations and a need to rely on the attorneys to get it through the system. It barely passed. After the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy approved the draft bill it was passed along to Augusta where some changes were made. Even more changes were made when the bill went to DC and the Tribes didn’t have a chance to review/approve those final changes.
    • The current case between Penobscot Indians and the State of Maine is regarding the dispute that the Penobscot Indians only own islands in the Penobscot River. The 1818 treaty defines the scope of the reservation. The scope of the land claims area includes a 12-mile corridor along the river from the coast to Katahdin at a breadth of 6 miles on either side of the river.
    • The Penobscot Tribe governs hunting and fishing regulations on their lands. The Penobscot Department of Natural Resources sets the hunting and fishing limits for moose, deer and bear. Non-tribal members can hunt spring bear. Each family can take one moose per household. The Fee lands fall under state jurisdiction for hunting.
    • Reservation lands are aboriginal lands. Fee lands are located in other townships. There are also Trust lands acquired after the 1980 Act. All new lands are acquired initially as Fee lands, and the Council can apply for lands to be transferred from Fee to Trust. Approximately 130,000 acres were acquired after the MICSA.
    • Racism and fear have been evident throughout the centuries. There was fear that Indians would acquire lands and evict all others.
    • Land is lasting. Money is spent and wasted away. Tribes are interested in expanding contiguous lands. The tax burden can be a problem. Tribes do not pay taxes on Trust lands but do pay taxes on fee lands. Tribal lands went from approximately 6000 acres to 133,000 acres (about 100k in Trust and 30k in Fee) since the MICSA. Fee lands can be sold to non-tribal people like any other private property.
    • Nibezun project involved the creation of a 501c(3) to acquire the land and develop programs and manage infrastructure. There is interest potentially in the creation of a Native Land Trust.  There are now 9 native-run, native-staffed land trusts in the United States who address both land conservation and tribal land sovereignty issues.
    • The State of Maine has to approve gaming and any proposal has to include Passamaquoddy and Penobscot.
    • There have been 14 relevant litigated cases since MICSA to test its interpretation. Consider the spirit and intent of the law. Some would like to see a Truth and Reconciliation Commission review the MICSA. Relationships between Tribes, State and Federal Government have been challenging.
  • What can we do to be supportive of Tribes? How can we share land and resources to address some of the failings of the Act? Engage and learn and increase awareness. Share knowledge of the land and available resources. Support the teaching of life skills and native language. Nibezun sets a good example of Indian’s relationship with the land. Language and place names are important. Focus on place names and meanings and reintroduce them to the land. Reaffirm aboriginal rights to the lands for harvest and gathering. Bring experience and privilege to help create Native Land Trusts.

Peter thanked all for sharing their knowledge. This has been a great opportunity to connect. It is admirable to be able to share difficult history with open sharing and even laughter. Thank you!

Cobscook Community Learning Center in Lubec – Sipayik Passamaquoddy Listening Session

December 11, 2018

Present: Rena Newall, elected tribal representative for the Passamaquoddy people, , Dale Mitchell and Ed Bassett from Passamaquoddy Tribe’s environmental department at Pleasant Point

First Light Learning Journey Participants: Peter Forbes, Diedre Whitehead, Brian Wentzell, Steve Tatko, Eric Topper, Stefan Jackson, Lissa Widoff, Kristin Peet, Ciona Ulbrich, Lucy McCarthy, Patrick Watson, Catherine Schmidt, Aaron Englander, Aaron Mequier, Susan Caldwell, and Deb Bicknell (not all stayed for afternoon/evening trip/meeting)

Peter welcomed all to the circle shortly after 9:00 am and introduced the First Light Learning Journey’s goal to share land and resources at the speed of trust. We did a round of introductions. These notes were gathered over the course of the morning’s discussion. They are not complete and don’t necessarily capture the full conversation.

    • How can the conservation community in Maine share land and resources with the Passamaquoddy Tribe? What is the Tribe’s interest in access to land and water? How has lack of access been impactful?
    • Basket makers need more access to ash and sweetgrass for harvesting.
    • It would be very helpful to have a map of conservation lands in Washington County so that tribal members know who to contact regarding potential access.
    • Sustenance has different meanings. It’s not just about food for survival, but food for the soul, spirit and culture too. For example, Rena’s grandmother would walk many miles to harvest sweetgrass for braiding and this was important to her way of life.
    • It’s hard to find large enough birch trees to harvest for canoe making. Some people harvest by cutting down the tree first. Others harvest by peeling the bark off the standing tree. As a conservation community, we don’t generally manage our forests to grow large birch. It’s really helpful for land trusts to have the knowledge of their own timber inventory.
    • Invasive plants such as Phragmites and loosestrife are problematic also in terms of harvesting sweetgrass. More action is needed from landowners to remove invasives.
    • The Tribe has traditionally used the waterways to transport timber and other natural resources as well as for human travel. Access and passage on waterways is important.
    • Often conservation groups manage their lands for later successional forests that may limit potential ecological diversity. Would it be beneficial to do more active management with fire, for example? Fire management was used by the Passamaquoddy along the St Croix riparian areas for game management. Sharing knowledge about the highest priority species and their management needs would be advantageous.
    • Kerry Hardy’s book “Notes on a Lost Flute: A Field Guide to the Wabanaki” was commended!
    • It’s important to manage lands not just for the health of a particular plant or animal, but for the health of the native culture as well.
    • Access to the St Croix river for recreation and other cultural uses is needed also. It would be helpful to know if there are specific traditional access points that are now not accessible.
    • Meddybemps land parcel is of great importance to the Passamaquoddy Tribe and any support from the conservation community in returning that land to the Tribe would be appreciated. Sharing of expertise and guidance in leading to this outcome would be very appreciated.
    • Transferring land from non-native people to native people requires breaking down barriers. There is a long-standing challenge of pervasive racism against the Passamaquoddy people. The Passamaquoddy can be very good neighbors, but sometimes a change in mindset is needed.
    • Is broader habitat restoration work by the conservation community helpful? Loss of habitat due to pollution or disruption of natural ecological systems is impacting all of us in Maine.
    • First Light Learning Journey participants want to be good neighbors to Indigenous people. One tool we are exploring is the use of cultural respect agreements. This technique is being promoted by Ramona Peters of the Mashpee Wampanoag in Cape Cod, Massachusetts through the Native Land Conservancy. There was acknowledgement that conservation group’s science and planning efforts with stakeholders have not always included engagement with Maine’s Tribes.
    • What’s the right legal tool to share resources? These can range from verbal agreements with landowners to written restrictions and legal tools such as conservation easements and/or cultural use agreements. The establishment of native land trusts is another option that has been successful in places outside of Maine.
    • There is a small land base at Pleasant Point and limited resources. The example of over harvest of clams was noted. There are too many licenses which is not sustainable for the clam resource.
    • What works well in collaboration and what has not worked well? Building alliances and working together toward common goals such as restoring alewife habitat can work very well.
    • Rena’s new role in the legislature was noted. Increasing the visibility of the Maine Tribes is likely to be positive and a new administration provides potential opportunity. The conservation community has been successful with policy initiatives in Maine and there may be more opportunity to collaborative with Tribes and conservation groups through legislative policy initiatives.
    • Breaking down barriers of racism is challenging. Ignorance of the history of Maine’s Tribes is frustrating.
    • It’s important to do a better job of educating Maine’s students about Maine’s history.
    • Regarding tribal sovereignty and increasing land holdings, what’s the best-case scenario for increasing tribal lands? The Tribe now owns about 100,000 acres in Trust lands and the settlement act allows for up to 150,000 acres. The US Government owns title to the Trust lands. There are no restrictions on increasing fee lands, but paying the taxes can be challenging. Acquiring new land close to existing lands would be most desirable. The Passamaquoddy want to see the Meddybemps land transferred back to them.
    • First Light Learning Journey will be welcoming all tribal representatives that we have met with to date to a gathering in early June. Building relationships is important and having honest discussion even if we agree to disagree is valuable.
  • Rena welcomed conservation group’s participation in their 8th annual tribal career expo likely taking place on the first Friday in May at Washington County Community College. Grade 6 through college-age native youth are encouraged to attend. It would be great to have more participation from the conservation community in Maine.

We adjourned the meeting around noon and enjoyed a meal together and then a field trip to the museum at Sipayik.

Cobscook Community Learning Center in Lubec – First Light Learning Journey Discussion on Next Steps

December 11, 2018 – 4:15-6pm and then again after dinner…

Alan Furth, the outgoing Director and Co-Founder of CCLC, joined us to give a bit of background regarding the development and work of the Cobscook Community Learning Center The mission of the Cobscook Community Learning Center is to create responsive educational opportunities that strengthen personal, community, and global well-being. CCLC is open to groups for workshops and meetings and we are encouraged to host our gatherings there in the future! Overnight lodging and meals are available.

After Alan left Peter asked that we consider together these three questions/updates together:

    • What do we do with our privilege and knowledge we are gaining through the First Light Learning Journey?
    • Let’s update each other on the work we have been doing and progress to date since our last gathering.
  • How should the First Light Learning Journey move forward – with a second cohort starting in January 2020?!
    • Would it be appropriate to do a presentation about the First Light Learning Journey at the annual Maine Land Trust Network conference? The selection process for workshops is already well underway. Certain aspects such as EDI work and emerald ash borer work and/or a demonstration of ash pounding are being considered. There was additional discussion about the value of sharing information at this time through this venue.
  • Within our own organizations, First Light participants can continue to raise awareness among our staff and membership about the importance of our history and potential partnership with Maine’s Tribes going forward. The conservation community can learn and share Maine’s history, support the education of Maine’s people regarding Wabanaki history, and engage tribal youth in conservation career opportunities, for example.

Relevant Progress and Updates:

    • Aaron and Diedre talked to MCHT stewardship staff about their First Light experience.
    • Lissa included native needs on the Environmental Funders Network call agenda.
    • Dawnland showings throughout Maine have been offered and supported by First Light participants and others.
    • Maine Audubon brought Robin Wall Kimmerer to speak and it was an overwhelming turnout.
    • Steve has been promoting doing statewide inventory work on ash in our Maine forests. Engaging UMO and Cooperative Forest Research Unit (CFRU) and using available LiDAR data offers opportunity.
    • Kerry offered relevant programming at Vinalhaven Land Trust annual meeting.
    • The importance of supporting the transfer of land at Meddybemps to the Passamaquoddy was emphasized. This site also has significance for fish passage as well.  
    • Success by Nibezun in fundraising to acquire the land was celebrated again! They will continue to work on organizational development and fundraising for infrastructure and programming. They are exploring starting a native land trust.
    • There was a gathering at UMO focusing on the emerald ash borer (EAB) that included basketmakers, academics, scientists, conservationists, foresters and researchers working together.
    • Ciona has been working with conservation organizations in Waldo, Hancock and Washington counties on gathering GIS data to share conservation ownership. She is coordinating with Suzanne Greenlaw who is doing her PhD at UMO on this work. One initial practical outcome would be to find locations for brown ash and sweetgrass for potential sharing with Tribes.
    • TNC can offer additional GIS support when we determine what would be most helpful to Tribes. As we talk about gathering in June and “rolling out the maps.”
    • MCHT has collected examples of cultural use/respect agreements and has connected with an attorney in Boston on this topic with the hope of crafting a template for Maine. Acadia NPS has oral agreements relevant to harvest of sweetgrass.
  • Sarah Alexander, new ED at MOFGA, is an ally for connecting Indigenous people with land in Maine.

Future of First Light Learning Journey:

Through the First Light Learning Journey, there have been 5 listening sessions between conservation and tribal representatives over the past year: Penobscot, Micmac, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy at Indian Twp and Sipayik. Peter will work with Maria Girouard, Darren Ranco and Donald Soctomah to plan for a gathering in early June welcoming all who were included in those five listening sessions. There will also be a canoe trip on the Penobscot River for up to 18 people in May. This work represents the original commitment of the First Light Learning Journey, so what’s next?!

There was discussion about the value of both deepening and continuing the connections initiated with original participants as well as potential for starting a second cohort of First Light Learning Journey starting in January 2020. We want the work to expand to others in the conservation community and there is also a sense from existing participants that we want an opportunity to continue working together and deepen the connections we have made. Peter’s sense from Tribal Chiefs is that they are willing to continue the partnership and commit to future listening sessions. There is value in maintaining the existing connections and deepening the relationships that have been initiated. Continuity brings validity and deepening of engagement. There was discussion around the need for others of us to take responsibility for governing a growing network. Clarity around outcomes and deliverables of our work to date and ongoing work going forward is needed. Peter asked participants for support in considering the structure and outcomes of such a network. Developing a “one-pager” was proposed as a starting point.

Wrapping up at around 8:30 pm Peter said that he heard that we suggest both an ongoing network to grow from the initial First Light Learning Journey participants as well as new opportunity for others in the future. This will require new commitments from existing participants to support the work!

Invitation and Itinerary

Sipayik Listening Session Participants