A Treaty Gave Them the Island in 1794. They Now Have It Back

'It's been every chief's goal ever since to return it,' says William Nicholas
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 4, 2021 9:48 AM CDT
Updated Jun 6, 2021 11:29 AM CDT
Tribe Buys Back Maine Island Stolen 160 Years Ago
Stock photo showing land in Maine.   (Getty Images)

Members of the Passamaquoddy tribe frequented Maine's Pine Island (Kuwesuwi Monihq) for millennia before the arrival of white settlers, who brought deadly diseases. Graves of tribal members who died of smallpox remain on the island, but prior to March, they hadn't been visited by members in more than 160 years. That's because the island in Maine's Big Lake—given to the tribe through a 1794 treaty with the state of Massachusetts, in honor of their contributions to the Revolutionary War—was soon taken over by logging companies. Once Maine split from Massachusetts in 1820, the island's name was changed to White's Island. Since that name wasn't the one stated in the treaty, the requirement it not be sold was essentially voided, per the Boston Globe. "The land was stolen from us and it's been every chief's goal ever since to return it," William Nicholas, chief of the the Passamaquoddy’s Indian Township reservation, tells the Guardian. With help, Nicholas has now achieved that aim.

Last July, Nicholas spotted a for-sale ad for the island, which had been owned by one man for 35 years. The tribe sought the help of the First Light collective, which works to connect native tribes with their ancestral lands. Member group the Nature Conservancy then offered the Passamaquoddy a grant equal to the purchase price. The tribe ultimately paid $355,000 to buy 143 acres in March, leaving a small section of island owned by Downeast Lakes Trust, a conservation-focused nonprofit. "I know that something significant, hugely, is back to our people and that sits good with me," Nicholas tells the Globe, noting the land will be used for fishing, camping, ceremonies, and teaching the next generation "about living in harmony and stewardship." (More Native Americans stories.)

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