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Behind the Scenes of the
Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement

Laura Brooks' Statement

When signed into law, the Maine Indian Land Claims settlement was heralded as a monumental victory. No one could have imagined that fifteen years or so later the settlement would come back to haunt the Passamaquoddy Tribe with a vengeance. Who could have known that tribal sovereignty and self-determination would be jeapordized for the Passamaquoddys by the settlement agreement's terms?

There's a clause in the settlement agreement which states that any federal Indian law passed will not apply to Maine Indians, unless the federal law expressly directs that it shall apply to Maine Indians.

This clause is creating serious problems for the Passamaquoddy Tribe. The state of Maine legislature refuses to pass a bill to remove the clause. Federal bill sponsors are reluctant to add the provision making any federal law applicable to Maine Indians, for fear that the bill in question won't get passed. Should an important law that could benefit many tribes be forsaken just for one small Indian tribe? The courts are quite clear about the clause: the Passamaquoddys made a deal and now they have to stick with it.

Everyone wants to blame someone. Fingers are being pointed left and right. Being that I'm in law school right now, my first instinct is to turn to the non-Indian lawyers who were involved with this agreement (including the tribe's attorney at that time Tom Tureen) and ask WHY??!!! I admit in a sense that I am also pointing fingers. No one was thinking about sovereignty back then. There were millions of dollars at stake for an impoverished tribe.

In my quest to understand what was happening during this heated time period of settlement negotiation, I have asked many questions of people who were involved. It has helped me to understand better the politics behind the settlement agreement. I was only 13 years old at the time. All I remember is my mother telling me never to tell anyone I was Indian because people would hate me for it. I never understood. Not until recently when I had a chance to speak with a close family friend of mine.

Sue Stevens is the former wife of the Passamaquoddy Tribe's current Governor at Indian Township - John Stevens. Sue was right there in the middle of it all when the negotiations were taking place. She has given me valuable insight into this heated time period. I thought that this information was so important that I asked for her permission to place it here on my web site. I now realize that pointing fingers and blaming others is senseless. The land claims case was a victory - even with its diminishment of sovereignty. Now the Passamaquoddy people need to unite in finding ways to re-assert their sovereignty, notwithstanding that clause in the agreement.

Update January 4, 2004: I was saddened to hear from my mother that Sue Stevens died a while back from cancer. May her soul rest in peace. Please, if you're reading this right now, say a prayer for her. She was an amazing and stong woman and I will miss her dearly.


Sue Stevens' Statement

I was there behind the scenes or even on the scene at major junctures in the case. Now everyone is bitching away, pretending they weren't all for the land claims settlement, even those who voted to ratify the agreement, which was nearly every person in all the Maine tribes. It is tragic that real sovereignty got lost in the shuffle (the state just wouldn't budge) and has come back to haunt the tribes and given the state far too much control.

I could tell you a lot about the period the claims were going on and the totally hostile political climate, the betrayal of trust of major congressman who had said they would support the tribes, and then chickened out, and so on. Everyone in Congress was trying to extinguish the claims, except President Carter, who is forever my hero. He said he would veto any attempt to quash the claims. But he was going to be killed in the election (honest nice guys don't make it in the polls -- must be sissies --) And Reagan was SURE to be elected, and he had sworn to extinguish the Maine claims himself. So they were under the gun to compromise in order not to lose everything.

By the way, people, I understand, are blaming John, now that gaming and everything is stymied. He's an easy target, but he is not to blame. I have proof that John was out of the loop by the time the negotiations were done, though he had much to do with starting the claims. He was NOT on the negotiating committee at all, and was not even tribal governor at that time (1978). I have a list of the negotiating team members (which changed over time, as it was so exhausting, they had to keep replacing people) at the time of the conclusion of the case. John is nowhere among them.

I was very involved and interested in the Land Case and everything else about the tribe. I was in Augusta [Maine's Capitol] when this was happening. If Governor Curtis had run again, the case wouldn't have wound up as it did. He was pro-Indian, level headed, very intelligent, had a legal background, and was a real friend to the tribes. He was scandal-free and well respected by everyone. His wife was part Abenaki to boot.

Unfortunately, his only two children both had cystic fibrosis. When Angela died at about age 10, he was heartbroken, and refused to run for office again, so that he could devote more time to his youngest daughter, and help his wife, as these kids need daily respiratory therapy, etc. The youngest one died eventually, too. Very sad. In the meantime, this absolute lunatic named Longley got elected as a supposed independent; but he was in fact righter-wing than Jerry Falwell. Hated the Indians, had his fingers in his ears and his eyes tightly shut, and wouldn't even TALK to John or Tom Tureen, or the Native American Rights Fund, or Curtis, or anyone. He said inflammatory things over TV about the tribes, the "frivolous case" and so on. He really set the climate for hysteria and later revenge. He made people believe (when the case got serious and all the municipal bonds were frozen over 2/3 of the state) that the Indians (he all but said "Devils") were going to try to take over people's homes and farms, hold the state hostage, and stuff like that.

He had ignored everything so long, and had pooh-poohed everything in public, and so was caught utterly off guard when the bonding companies in New York examined the merits of the case and froze the bonds. His response to cover his own incompetence was to paint the tribes as the devil incarnate. His sidekick, Brennan, as attorney general, was his a-kissing yes-man, and though he had at least a brain and knew the case was strong, he went along with Longley.

This recalcitrant attitude of Longley's and those whose jobs depended on him, set up a totally adversarial climate. John as the spearhead of the case in the earliest days had his life threatened on a number of occasions when he would try to explain the case over TV on in the paper. At one point we (my daughter and I) moved to Bangor, and somehow the hateful types found where we lived and destroyed her swing set, our Halloween pumpkin and mailbox, and wrote hateful things on the sidewalk in front of the house. Among them, "Rotten Indians, go back where you came from!" (How's that for irony?)

It became a test of wills how much control the state would keep. A who's the boss thing, and who are these upstarts with brown skins, and How Dare They? kind of thing. Every delaying tactic to settlement that could be imagined was pulled out when the tribes had won every round up to the settlement table.

I have to say that Tom Tureen had been brilliant to this point. It was a celebrated case, which at the start had the chance of a snowball in hell. The tribe had no money for legal help. The first lawyer had been disbarred, not to mention was pursuing a useless approach. Tom Tureen took the job when no one else would, and sacrificed a cushy income for many years to hang in there. There was scant chance of success, but he hung in. He got NARF involved, found funding for pieces of it, politicked, drove and flew all over the map to get help. His wife and children barely saw him.

In those days, Tom was utterly devoted to the justice of the cause, and I know this is true because I was there around the kitchen table many times as strategies were worked out. I know he was absolutely devoted to the justice of the cause and to the tribes. In those days, he had little monetary reward, and most people thought he was nuts to devote years to such a lost cause. Finally, when he had steered it through all the legal twists and tangles up to the end point, he said he was afraid that the claims had gotten so big (after it was realized the aboriginal lands covered 2/3 of the state) that they would be extinguished by Congress, pointing to the Cherokee case, which had gone even to the Supreme Court. He called it "A morality play" to my Indian course at Bowdoin. So, knowing the history of this country, he urged the tribes to go for a settlement rather than turning it into the final win-or-lose court case. He knew they would lose everyting even if they "won."

You had the state on the negotiating committee, with Brennan acting as Longley's goon. You had farmers threatening to get out their shotguns and shoot the first son of a bitch Indian that dared show his head over his fence -- as if.....! ! Indian kids being beat up in schools in Woodland, Eastport and Oldtown. A completely hostile environment. The state Congressmen and Senators, even Muskie who had been a friend many times, backing out as their constituents began to threaten to vote them out of office if they helped in any way. So now the only thing between the tribes and loss of everything, and the ten years of court manueverings, was President Carter. He had the guts to say the case was just, the tribes had proved their point, they had a right to a settlement, they had proceeded in a just and orderly way within our court system, and that he would override any attempt of Congress to cancel the claims.

President Carter was already in disfavor. He was too nice, too good, and so seen as a sissy. But to me he was a courageous man of principals, as has been born out with what he has done with his so-called retirement.

So now, with the feds and the state delaying every single thing as long as possible, trying to keep it going until Reagan got elected and would kill it all, and putting up every barrier, the tribes running out of money to keep sending people to these endless negotiations, there became an urgency for the tribes to give some things up in order not to lose everything. Everyone, and surely Tom, was exhausted. I know Jim Sappier has told me being on that committee was the most exahusting thing he had ever been involved in. I think the extreme pressure, recalcitrance of the state crazies, resistance of the paper companies, hostility of the press, and most of all the final pressure to do SOMETHING before Carter was out of office, resulted in the major screw-up with regard to the sovereignty.

I can tell you that as a tribe that had never had any sovereignty for 200 years, no one understood at the time what had been sacrificed. I'm sure Tureen didn't. Casinos were non-existant. I would dare say no one in the tribes even knew what sovereignty meant. If only someone from a federally recognized tribe had been on the committee.... It is only as you discover you don't have it that its meaning has become clear in the last 6 or years. People thought they had only given up autonomy in terms of hunting and fishing, and figured it wasn't much of a sacrifice to win the rest, and get vast tracts of land, federal recognition, health care, good roads, a trust fund, and so on. So this is how I think it all happened.

It's easy to blame someone now. Even Tureen, who gave the productive years of his life to the tribes, with real dedication and very little pay. He did an amazing thing for these little dinky tribes with no money, no chance, no education (Sylvia and Morris Brooks were the only people at the Township who had completed high school when I came in 1969) no supporters anywhere.

Revisionist history is easy, and the former heroes are now the Devils. If the sovereignty thing hadn't been done wrong and the Passamaquoddys were all rich from gaming, John and Tom would be heroes, and everyone would be claiming that THEY were on the negotiating team!

So this is my bird's eye view of things, the fly on the wall view. I went to council meetings, intertribal council meetings, court hearings, etc. I read all the materials that came into the house. I put up (for free) two different law students, for months at a time, who were doing the research on the aboriginal claims over 2/3 of the state and discussed the case with them. I read endless documents with John about the case. I clipped articles, fed people who came for newspaper and magazine interviews when there were no restaurants in the area, taught about the ongoing case to my Bowdoin class, and so on.

So yes, I was there, and I was very involved in my way. I was also there at major junctures in the case when there was jubilation and celebration in all the Maine tribes, despite what they say today. And in the end, they felt victorious, justified, validated. Tom was a hero. John was still remembered as the man who started it all. The attitude was really UP! Everybody was happy and expectant for the future. The state and feds and state reps had saved face, the paper companies were to be compensated for land, the farmers could put down their pitchforks and shotguns, and the tribes had won the biggest cash settlement in Indian claims history. They had also won, as the first tribes ever to do so, LAND, which they had held out for despite every pressure to give the idea up. Furthermore, the stage was set for the winning of many cases down the whole east coast in the former 13 original colonies. Some cases are still pending; the Catawbas finally just won about 3 years ago.

It was a really historic case; but it was the learning case, too, for the disenfranchised eastern tribes. A big mistake was made at the end of a tortuous and amazing case that had been handled adroitly to the last moment. I think it's important not to throw the whole baby out with the bathwater, therefore, though it is a tragedy this one slip-up was so enormous in its consequences. I don't think that sovereignty error was made again in the other eastern tribes' suits, but too late for the Maine tribes the lesson was learned.

I have always wondered whether having the case and its settlement reviewed in the true light of the extreme pressure the tribes were under (Carter/Reagan and all that, delaying tactics of the opponents, etc) might not show the tribes' decisions were made under extreme duress and lack of understanding about sovereignty, and might not enable the tribes to reverse that part of the agreement? It would be a Supreme Court thing, I guess, and would have to wait for a more liberal court, God knows, than there is now. But put this idea in the back of your mind. Maybe you could be the one to bring this about if we ever have a liberal supreme court again.

redball Return to Passamaquoddy Origins Page


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