May 20, 2022
LEGACY OF THE LAND CLAIMS

A timeline of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980

1760: Treaty of Paris. British take formal control of land known as Maine, make treaty with Indians for protection.

1775: Massachusetts Provincial Congress enacts resolve forbidding trespass on lands claimed by the Penobscot Indian Nation.

1790: U.S. Congress passes the Federal Trade and Nonintercourse Act, which prohibits states from entering into treaties with Indian tribes and prevents the sale of Indian land without congressional approval.

1794: Despite presence of Nonintercourse Act, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, without congressional approval, negotiates treaty with Passamaquoddy Tribe, granting it the right to 23,000 acres in Washington County and 15 islands in the St. Croix River.

1796: Penobscot Indian Nation cedes 200,000 acres to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in return for provisions including cloth, corn, salt and the promise of an annual stipend.

1818: Impoverished Penobscot Nation cedes much of remaining land to Massachusetts except islands north of Old Town and four timber townships.

1820: Maine becomes a state, separates from Massachusetts and assumes its obligations.

1833: Maine purchases four remaining timber townships including Millinocket from Penobscot Nation for $50,000 placed in a state trust fund for the tribe.

1964: Passamaquoddy brothers John and George Stevens discover William Plaisted, a white man, building cabins on disputed land near Lewy Lake in Indian Township.

Two days later, 75 Passamaquoddys protest the Lewy Lake development, forming a human chain across the gravel road leading to cabins. Police arrest 10 members. Trespassing charges later dropped.

1966: Eastport attorney Donald Gellers initiates lawsuit on behalf of Passamaquoddy Tribe against Massachusetts to recover Indian townships and prove Maine’s mismanagement of Indian funds.

Three days later, Gellers arrested for marijuana possession and later leaves the state. As a result, case is never heard in federal court.

1967: Maine Indians granted right to vote in state elections, making Maine the last state in the nation to grant that right.

1969: Tom Tureen, who later would represent the Passamaquoddy Tribe, finishes law school.

1972: Tureen and his colleagues file lawsuit on behalf of Passamaquoddy Tribe against U.S. Interior Department, arguing that the tribe should be federally recognized and, as a result, its lands should be protected under the Nonintercourse Act.

1972: In order to preserve the lawsuit before a statute of limitations expired, U.S. District Court orders Justice Department to sue Maine on behalf of the tribes. The department complies with the order and sues the state for $150 million on behalf of both tribes.

1975: Federal judge rules in favor of Passamaquoddy Tribe in its lawsuit against the Interior Department. The decision later was upheld by a federal appeals court.

1976: Pending Indian lawsuits against the state call into question the ownership of millions of acres, clouding Maine property titles and local bond issues..

Maine congressional delegation introduces resolution directing federal courts to refuse to hear land claims cases brought by the Maine tribes.

1977: Interior Department report recommends, as part of tribal lawsuits against the state, ejection notices be sent to landowners – including large paper companies – within the 12.5 million acres claimed by the tribes.

Congress rejects legislation to extinguish land claims actions brought by the Maine tribes.

1977: President Jimmy Carter appoints retired Georgia Supreme Court Justice William B. Gunter to evaluate the merits of the case. Gunter later recommends out-of-court settlement including $25 million and 100,000 acres of state lands to the tribes.

1978: Justice Department amends case against the state, sues for the return of 350,000 acres and $300 million to the tribes.

1979: Maine Supreme Judicial Court, in State v. Dana, rules that state arson law does not apply on Indian lands, strengthening tribes’ position in settlement negotiations. State files appeal to U.S. Supreme Court.

1980: U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear appeal of State v. Dana.

In March, state and tribes agree to settle land claims case for $81.5 million in federal money, $54 million of which would be used to purchase 300,000 acres.

In September, both houses of Congress pass the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act.

On Oct. 10, President Carter signs the agreement.

1988: Congress passes the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, preserving the right of federally recognized Indian tribes to conduct casino gambling on their lands.

1995: U.S. District Court judge rules that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does not apply to Maine tribes, bound by their earlier settlement with the state.

1995: Tribes successfully defeat nomination of Portland lawyer John M.R. Paterson to the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission, a group established to mediate disputes over the settlement. Paterson, a former deputy state attorney general, was the state’s chief negotiator of the 1980 agreement.

2001: Maine Supreme Judicial Court, in Great Northern Paper v. Penobscot Nation, rules that state public access laws apply to tribes. Tribes see the ruling as contrary to the settlement’s provision allowing them exclusive jurisdiction over internal tribal matters.

2003: In November, Maine voters defeat referendum to build $650 million casino resort in southern Maine.

Later that month, tribal leaders, protesting Gov. John Baldacci’s opposition to the project, boycott future meetings of the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission.

2005: Tribal representatives return to MITSC, which resumes meetings after more than a year of dormancy.

SOURCES: “Maine Indians: Legacy of the Land Claims,” Bangor Daily News, 1989; “Restitution,” Paul Brodeur, 1985; “Tribal Assets: The Rebirth of Native America,” Robert H. White, 1990; “Unsettled Past, Unsettled Future: The Story of Maine Indians,” Neil Rolde, 2004; “Penobscot Man,” Frank G. Speck, 1940.


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