During my working days in Maine, I enjoyed writing stories about the state’s Indian tribes – the Penobscots, the Passamaquoddys and the Micmacs. The big story about them (or at least the Penobscots and the Passamaquoddys – the Micmacs were excluded) was the Indian Land Claims Case. A sharp young lawyer in the 1970s found that a key treaty between the state of Maine and the Indians had never been signed by the state and, as a result, the two tribes had a legitimate claim to a huge portion of Maine’s land. The Indians had a great case and the state agreed to settle it (using federal funds – thanks, President Jimmy Carter), and the two Indian tribes suddenly became big players in Maine’s economy.
But there were other stories involving the Indians. In this particular story, the Wabanaki Confederation (made up of Passmaquoddys, Penobscots, Micmacs and Malaseets) wanted a new reservation that would include all the tribes, and they took a step in that direction by briefly occupying part of Baxter State Park. They didn’t get what they wanted, but they did draw some crucial attention to their cause.
I wish there was an Internet back in the mid-1970s. If there had been, I could have done a better job of researching this story. I would have learned that the Wabanaki Confederation was an organization that stretched back to the late 1770s, that it played a key role in the American Revolution, and that under the Treaty of Watertown signed in 1776, Wabanaki soldiers, even those from Canada, had the right to join the U.S. military, a right some have exercised as recently as the war in Afghanistan.
Not sure when this was written, probably around 1976.
By ARTHUR FREDERICK
INDIAN ISLAND, Maine (UPI) – One of the Indians who had camped in Baxter State Park for nearly a week said Thursday his group hopes the state will provide land for a new Indian reservation.
The Indians were members of the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, MicMac and Maliseet tribes, but all belong to the Wabanaki Confederacy.
Stanley Neptune, who had spent six days at the park with 27 other Indians, said the Wabanakis hope to leave their own reservations and start a new reservation. He said the Wabanakis feel the present tribes are losing their culture, and the new group hopes to preserve the Indian ways.
Neptune also said the Indians left the park because they had accomplished what they wanted, and not because of pressure from park and state officials.
“Everything that happened was good,” Neptune said.
Neptune said the Indians had gone to the park hoping that part of Baxter could be allotted to them. Mount Katahdin, located within the park, is considered a sacred place by the Indians.
“Our idea was to have a place to live,” Neptune said. “We want a place for the Wabanaki Confederacy.”
Neptune said lawyers are negotiating with the state to see if some land, perhaps some of the state’s public lands, could be set aside for the Wabanakis.
“It was our hope at first to get part of the park, but we found we couldn’t stay there,” Neptune said. “It was a place to go to get answers, and we got answers. We left because it was time to leave.”
Neptune said the state agreed to drop illegal entry charges against nine Indians who were arrested when they tried to join the original group. He also said that tribal governors, who had opposed the action at the park at first, seemed to be changing their minds, and said a meeting between the governors and those who took part in the encampment at Baxter was set for Friday.
“The governors were against us, but now they are changing their thinking.” Neptune said. “We’re trying to save our culture. Not too far in the future, there won’t be any more Indian people.”
Another Indian who had gone to Baxter, Sam Sapio, said the Wabanakis had taken part in some spiritual events at Baxter, but he declined to elaborate.
“We went up there to do some of our traditional things,” he said. “I can’t tell you about that.”
Mount Katahdin has been a spiritual place for Maine’s Indians for many years.
“When they had trouble in the tribes, they would go there to meditate,” Sapio said.
Gov. James B. Longley, who on Wednesday said the state would remove the Indians by force if necessary, said he was glad they had left on their own.
“It is a fine example of how reasonable people can accommodate what is right without needless conflict,” he said.