Members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe this week narrowly defeated two incumbent officers and elected new leaders for its reservations at Indian Township and Pleasant Point.
The tribe’s new chiefs-elect immediately said that Passamaquoddy fishing rights will be a high priority for the new administrations.
The tribe has been embroiled in an on-again, off-again dispute with state officials in recent years over fishing rights for elvers — baby eels.
The tribe at Pleasant Point on Tuesday ousted incumbent chief Clayton Cleaves in favor of Fred Moore, who has served in the past as the Passamaquoddy representative to the Maine Legislature.
The tribe at Indian Township on Wednesday replaced incumbent vice chief Clayton Socabasin and also chose a new chief to take the place of Joseph Socobasin, who did not seek re-election.
Moore narrowly defeated Cleaves, 204-171. Vera Francis received 297 votes to handily defeat vice chief Kenneth Poynter, who got 80 votes in his re-election bid.
Billy Nicholas was elected chief at Indian Township and his brother, Leslie, was elected vice chief although both races were close. Billy Nicholas received 201 votes to 178 for Wade Lola, and Leslie Nicholas received 200 votes compared to 175 for incumbent Clayton Socabasin.
The new officers begin their four-year terms on Oct. 1.
The two reservations together elected Matthew Dana of Indian Township as the tribe’s representative to the Maine Legislature, a non-voting position. He received 537 votes compared to 150 for Regina Petite and 50 for Dean Francis.
Moore and Nicholas talked about the election results on Thursday, and both men indicated Passamaquoddy fishing rights would be a priority of their administrations.
Moore, 54, was the tribe’s representative to the Maine Legislature from 1994-98 and 2006-10. He is a self-employed fisheries management consultant and also is a commercial fisherman.
Nicholas, 44, who served as chief prior to Socobasin, is the tribe’s chief warden and has worked in law enforcement for 22 years.
Moore, who authored the tribe’s fisheries management plan, used the toughest language in referring to the controversy over elver fishing. He summarized the tribe’s position succinctly: “We are not bothering anybody. Leave us alone.”
“Those are non-negotiable rights,” Moore said, although he added some matters, such as fishing methods and take, are negotiable.
His comments referred to both fishing for elvers and other species, Moore said.
Moore is still facing charges of elver poaching in the state of New York stemming from what he says were his efforts to advise the Unkechaug Indian Nation on an eel fishery management plan being developed there. Fishing for elvers, which are young American eels, is prohibited in New York.
Nicholas also stressed that elver fishing regulation in Maine “will be on the table” for discussion as his administration takes office.
“We’re a nation within a nation,” he added. “We need to be treated as such.”
“I think fishing rights are going to be a huge issue coming up,” Nicholas said, “as well as economic development.”
Moore outlined several issues his administration will focus on. One is the disenfranchisement of tribe members who are excluded from voting rolls because of outdated residency requirements, he said.
“We need to correct that immediately,” Moore said, in conjunction with implementing a constitution for the tribe to cover both reservations. The tribe now is governed by by-laws.
Moore also wants to involve the community in the development of “an economic recovery plan,” he said.
“We have to move away from a welfare-based economy” that is dependent on federal funding, Moore added. “Our economy is essentially based on welfare.”
Nicholas said his first priority will be to unify the tribe. “I think the vision moving forward is to try to unify the community once again, bring people together,” he said.
“I think that elections are always tough on communities,” he pointed out, whether it is a municipal government or a tribal government. “It puts up a lot of dividers between people. … At the end of the day, everybody has to work together.”