Motahkomikuk (Indian Township), Maine – On March 12, 2021, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk (Indian Township) reacquired 140 acres of their unceded Ancestral territory – the largest island in Kci Monosakom, (Big Lake) Maine. Originally known as Kuwesuwi Monihq (Pine Island), and renamed “White’s Island” by settlers, this place has deep historical and cultural significance to the Passamaquoddy community. The island was included as part of the Tribe’s Indian Township reservation in the 1794 Treaty, as well as the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980.
The history of Kuwesuwi Monihq goes back to time immemorial, but the island has recent memories attached to it as well. It was a place where food was stored in root cellars, where life was sustained through fishing and the passage of culture from one generation to the next. During the smallpox epidemic brought by the French and English settlers, community members would deliver food from Kuwesuwi Monihq to sick relatives quarantined nearby.
“After it was sold, the Passamaquoddy Tribe was banned from going onto the island,” explained Indian Township’s Chief William Nicholas. “The Tribe felt this land loss was an injustice.” Today with the island’s return, he continues, “There is no doubt that the Ancestors are jumping all over the place over there.”
Community members like Colleen Dana-Cummings are also thinking of their Ancestors today. “My first thoughts when I first heard of this…was of my grandparents, Albert and Philomene Dana,” she says. “They thought of the future and what would be left for generations to come. They would be so pleased to know this happened. Woliwon.”
Because of its cultural significance, return of this stolen Treaty land has been a high priority for the Tribe. When it was advertised for sale, Chief Nicholas contacted First Light – a collective of advocates working to serve as a bridge between conservation organizations and Wabanaki Communities, and to expand Wabanaki access across their homelands – to request assistance. First Light and The Nature Conservancy in Maine partnered with the Tribe to remedy an historical injustice and reacquire the island.
“First Light is humbled by the trust placed in our shared work by the Passamaquoddy Tribe, and we are grateful to our colleagues at The Nature Conservancy for working so hard to make this return of land possible,” said Peter Forbes of First Light.
Importantly, this land return is a piece of a larger effort by the Wabanaki Tribes in Maine. In 2020, the Tribes established the Wabanaki Commission on Land and Stewardship Nil yut ktahkomiq nik, which seeks “to improve the health and well-being of Wabanaki people through a sustained effort to expand our access, management, and ownership of lands to practice our land-based cultures across Wabanaki homeland in what is now the State of Maine.” Nil yut ktahkomiq nik means “the whole earth is our home.”
“The Passamaquoddy People have dwelled on and cared for Kuwesuwi Monihq for countless generations,” said Corey Hinton, Esq., Passamaquoddy Citizen and Lead Attorney of the Tribal Nations Practice Group at Drummond Woodsum. “The return of the island to the Tribe will allow us to return home and to resume our stewardship of this special place. As Chief Nicholas said, ‘I can’t wait until we have a Ceremony out on the island soon, and that we’re able to dance with our Ancestors and enjoy that.’”
Kihtahkomikumon (Our Land) – #IsLandBack in Passamaquoddy Territory, a documentary short film by Sunlight Media Collective: https://vimeo.com/537535470
Film info and transcript: https://www.icloud.com/pages/0OFV1NdauCoXfPyuuE3gxv1vQ
Short flyover sequence: https://vimeo.com/544166174
Learn more about the Passamaquoddy Tribe: https://www.passamaquoddy.com/
Learn more about Sunlight Media Collective: https://www.sunlightmediacollective.org/
Learn more about The Nature Conservancy in Maine: https://www.nature.org/maine