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Beyond Borders: A Wabanaki Perspective

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Self Determination

What strikes me as similar between the past and contemporary times is not only that we—as Wabanaki people—have always been making our own history, but that settlers have never fully recognized our self-determination or really trusted us with it. In 2022, I see the Federal government, much like the distant proprietors of 17th and 18th centuries, as primarily fighting to preserve its control over its own interests. This control sometimes overlaps with Indigenous people, as they are the holders of original agreements that colonizers often benefit from such as deeds and treaties, the foundations for federal law and authority. This reminds me of events detailed in Saxine’s Properties of Empire (2019) where the General Court in Boston sided with the Penobscots in the 1730s, against local settlers, because of Dummer’s Treaty. This is like the outcome of the Passamaquoddy v. Morton case from 1975, which forced the Federal government into protecting Wabanaki land interests in what is now Maine, and led to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980.

Today, the State of Maine is much like the local settlers from long ago—fighting both Federal authority over their lands (although the state, like the local settlers, would not be there but for the distant authorities), and Indigenous controls guaranteed in early agreements and laws that hold sway over local and state authority. In the 1970s, to make clear they did not want a 'nation within a nation,' leaders across all political spectrums ran on platforms decrying, much like the “liberty men” of old, any possible settlement related to the illegal taking of Wabanaki lands by the states of Massachusetts and Maine after the 1790 Federal Non-Intercourse Act, making treaties the purview of the Federal government only. In some ways—those politicos won—the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act was signed into law without a single dollar from the State of Maine (even though they had taken, time and again, from the Tribal funds they were 'managing' for 150 years), and with a diminishment of Tribal sovereignty based on clauses in the Act treating tribes as 'municipalities.'