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Beyond Borders: A Wabanaki Perspective

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Past meets Present

I am particularly struck by how similar the Proprietors’ documents and actions feel to the last sixty to seventy years of State and Federal dealings with Tribes, and attempts at reconciliation, justice, and healing. One thing made clear in the documents and historic scholarship that reference these documents, is that the settlers are considered the heart of the story. The key conflicts seem to be between the large land-owning proprietors and the settler-occupants of these tracts of land, often without a mention of Indigenous inhabitants or legacies.

Interestingly, the conflicts detailed in much of the earlier scholarship (such as in Taylor’s Liberty Men) is between the often-distant proprietors, who make their claims over Wabanaki lands, sometimes through deeds (or purported deeds) signed with Wabanaki leaders, and sometimes by vague agreements and grants or patents from even more distant courts or monarchies, and the noble English-speaking farmer-settlers on the front lines of 'making a new country.' More recent scholarship like that from Brooks, Saxine, Montgomery, and Blaakman shows Wabanaki people at the center of making, and responding to, settlers. This scholarship actually helps us understand the ways in which the contemporary Tribal-State-Federal relations in 2022 have played out in the last 60 years, and how all-encompassing and continuous the colonial framework remains across not only Maine, but all of Wabanaki territory.

Beginning in the 1950s, Wabanaki people, often led by those who had fought for the United States in wars starting in the 1940s, began a new era of diplomacy and attempts at asserting our Nationhood and responsibilities to our places. Sometimes, this took the form of traveling, making speeches, writing letters to state, national, and international authorities, and sometimes this took the form of open protest along major roadways and riverways in the form of more direct methods. These displays of Wabanaki diplomacy and political action have strong echoes with Wabanaki diplomats from the eighteenth century documented in the Proprietor records—Loron Sagouarroab and his shuttle diplomacy that made the 1725 Dummer’s Treaty and peace (for a while, anyway—until the English issued scalp bounties starting in 1740s and 1750s) possible; Pere Pole, a Revolutionary War veteran, and his attempts at protecting the Sandy River; and Polin, in his attempts at protecting the Presumpscot River, both through diplomacy and more direct dissent. These diplomacies and direct actions in the last six decades have led to some significant change such as federal recognition of Wabanaki Nations in Maine: Penobscot and Passamaquoddys in the 1970s, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians in 1980, and Mi’kmaq Nation in 1991; the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980; and recent legislative victories during 2021-2022 supporting Passamaquoddy clean water and Wabanaki economic interests in the gaming industry.