Passamaquoddy Tribe in Maine buys back island taken 160 years ago

Read full article in The Guardian. The Passamaquoddy’s purchase of Pine Island for $355,000 is the latest in a series of successful ‘land back’ campaigns for indigenous people in the US.

The advert painted an idyllic picture of White’s Island.

For $449,000 you could buy 143 acres of forests with sweeping views of the rugged shoreline of Big Lake in Maine, on the east coast of the United States. “[It’s] a unique property … steeped in history … with only two owners in the last 95 years,” wrote the real estate agent from privateislandsonline.com.

In fact, Kuwesuwi Monihq, or Pine Island, is its original name, and it technically has just one true “caretaker”; the Passamaquoddy: a small tribe of 3,700 Native Americans who had lived there for at least 10,000 years.

It’s a spiritually important place for the tribe, filled with graves from devastating smallpox, cholera and measles outbreaks caused by white settlers.

In 1794 it was officially granted to the tribe by Massachusetts for their service during the revolutionary war. But after 1820, when Maine became its own state, colonialists changed its title, voiding the treaty. In the 1851 census there were 20 Passamaquoddy living there, in 1861 there were none.

By 2021, they had not only lost all but 130,000 acres of their original 3m. They hadn’t stepped foot on Pine Island in 160 years.

“The land was stolen from us and it’s been every chief’s goal ever since to return it,” said chief William Nicholas, 51, leader of the tribe’s Indian township reservation for the last 11 years, who spotted the advert on a shop noticeboard on 4 July last year.

In March, with a grant from conservation charities, the tribe raised $355,000, and finally bought the island back.

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