June 03, 2020
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Passamaquoddy chief says public hearing will precede allocation of $11.4 million settlement

Bridget Brown | BDN
Bridget Brown | BDN
Passamaquoddy Tribal Governor and Chief Clayton Cleaves

Petitions seek equal distribution of funds among tribal members

PLEASANT POINT, Maine — Passamaquoddy Tribal Governor and Chief Clayton Cleaves said Wednesday a public hearing will be held before any decision on what’s to become of the proceeds of an $11.4 million lawsuit settlement that the tribe will soon receive from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The funds were awarded after a six-year legal battle over claims of federal mismanagement of tribal assets. After legal expenses, the tribal government is expecting to net $10.2 million.

Petitions have been circulating for months throughout the Washington County tribal communities of Indian Township and Pleasant Point, calling for a referendum that would authorize equal distribution of 100 percent of the funds to those who meet the lineage, age and residency requirements used in compiling the tribe’s official census.

The current census shows 3,475 tribal members, including 1,369 at the Indian Township reservation and 2,106 at the Pleasant Point reservation, according to the tribe’s website.

The funds at issue were recently awarded as a settlement of a lawsuit alleging asset mismanagement that was filed in 2006 by 60 tribes from throughout the United States. Among the Passamaquoddys’ assets was $13.5 million in federal funds allocated to the tribe in 1980 through the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, which was settled for $81.5 million.

Of the total awarded in the Claims Settlement Act, $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.

Cleaves said Wednesday that any discussion about settlement asset allocation would, at this point, be “premature.” He said he has not seen the referendum petitions and that they will not be on the agenda for a Joint Tribal Council meeting scheduled for May 30.

“There’s no definite plan now,” he said during an interview at the tribal headquarters in Pleasant Point. “Later on we’ll speak to the urgent needs of the community. We will have a public hearing about what should be done with the funds. We have a lot of urgent needs, and we have to make sure we have adequate services, especially for our elderly, so they’re not forced to eat macaroni and cheese every day.”

Cleaves said he and other tribal officials have agreed not to publicly discuss the settlement. While tribal council meetings are open to tribal members, they are closed to the public and are not subject to Maine’s open meetings or open records laws. “These are internal matters,” he said.

“It has to be a joint council decision to let [the issue] go to referendum,” said tribal member Mary Creighton, who helped circulate the petition throughout Pleasant Point. She said 247 signatures were gathered there in 10 days. An identical petition circulated in Indian Township also attracted more than 200 signatures, Creighton said.

“I expect the joint council will be really, really adamant about keeping the money and investing it,” Creighton said. “And we understand and would gladly have some of it invested, if the investment is safe. History would tell us that we should invest it ourselves.”

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