Story at a glance:
- It has been about 160 years since the Passamaquoddy tribe stepped foot on Pine Island, which was granted to them during the 18th century.
- The island, listed as “White’s Island,” was on sale for $449,000 on privateislandsonline.com.
- Ecological groups like First Light and The Nature Conservancy donated to help the Passamaquoddy buy back their land.
The Passamaquoddy tribe, which now has a population of about 3,700, lived in Kuwesuwi Monihq, or Pine Island, for at least 10,000 years, The Guardian reported. But today’s members have not stepped foot on the island for about 160 years
Now the tribe has bought back the land that originally belonged to their people.
The island holds sentimental value and spiritual importance to the tribe as the grave site of many of their ancestors who died from devastating smallpox, cholera and measles outbreaks caused by white settlers.
A 1794 treaty offered by the Massachusetts government the island to the Native Americans for their service in the Revolutionary War, according to the tribe’s history. When Maine became a state in 1820, however, colonialists changed the title for the land, voiding the treaty.
There were 20 Passamaquoddy living on the island, according to an 1851 census; ten years later, there were none.
“The land was stolen from us and it’s been every chief’s goal ever since to return it,” Chief William Nicholas, leader of the tribe’s Indian township reservation, told the Guardian.
On Independence Day last year, Nicholas noticed advertisements for the island on a shop forum board. Pine Island — renamed “White’s Island” — was on sale for $449,000.
“Our concept of land ownership is that nobody ‘owns’ land. Instead, we have a sacred duty to protect it. This is like finding a lost relative,” Nicholas told The Guardian.
The tribe raised $355,000 in donations and their bid was funded by First Light, a group of ecologists in Maine, making it one of the most successful buy backs of land for any Native American tribe.
“We have a role in the systemic injustice that was inflicted on indigenous people and therefore a responsibility addressing that,” said Mark Berry, a forest director for the Nature Conservancy, which is a member of First Light and has a history of returning land to tribes in Nebraska, Alaska and Oregon.
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