PLEASANT POINT, Maine — After a six-year legal battle over claims of federal mismanagement of tribal assets, the U.S. Department of the Interior has agreed to pay the Passamaquoddy tribe in Down East Maine an $11.4 million settlement.
Given legal expenses, the tribe is expecting to net $10.2 million from the settlement. That federal money is expected to be in hand within a few weeks.
Meanwhile, hundreds of tribal members who live within the Pleasant Point and Indian Township settlements in Washington County have signed petitions asking the Joint Tribal Council to distribute 100 percent of the money equally to those who meet the lineage, age and residency requirements that are used in compiling the tribe’s official census. The current census shows 3,369 tribal members, including 1,364 at the Indian Township reservation and 2,005 at the Pleasant Point reservation, according to the tribe’s website.
The lawsuit alleging asset mismanagement was filed in 2006 by 60 tribes from throughout the United States. Among the Passamaquoddy’s assets was $13.5 million in federal funds that were allocated to the tribe in 1980 through the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, which was settled for $81.5 million.
Of that amount, $54 million was spent to buy 300,000 acres of land in northern and eastern Maine. The Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes split $27 million, and much of the Passamaquoddy funds were invested in gold in 1991 and 1992.
The petitions that were circulating recently within the two Passamaquoddy communities seek an “apology” from the Joint Tribal Council for what those who signed the petition view as a “covert effort” to keep tribal members in the dark about the settlement and any plans to allocate or reinvest the money.
The Joint Tribal Council met March 6 and voted to ratify the settlement, but the council also agreed not to discuss it. Leslie Nicholas, a member of the Indian Township tribal council, said attorneys who represented the tribe instructed tribal officials not to openly discuss the settlement until all terms are finalized, according to a letter written by Nicholas that was distributed to tribal members. Nicholas declined to talk to the BDN about the settlement.
In the letter, however, Nicholas said the funds will be deposited in an account and frozen there until the issue of disbursement can be discussed at a future regular Joint Tribal Council meeting.
Correction: An early version of this story requires clarification. Comments attributed to Leslie Nicholas, a member of the Indian Township tribal council, were obtained from a letter written by Nicholas and distributed to tribal members. Nicholas declined to talk to the BDN about the settlement, but a copy of the letter was obtained by the BDN from another tribal member.