Pine Island is 143 acres of lush greenery and extending coastlines, bordering Maine’s Big Lake. However, its name wasn’t always Pine Island and it was once a home to 3,700 Native Americans. Kuwesuwi Monihq, the land’s original name, is an island of great spiritual importance to the tribe. It is scattered with graves, honoring the countless members who died from smallpox, cholera, and the measles, all diseases spread by colonists.
Following the revolution, the tribe was granted ownership over the island for their participation in the revolutionary war. Even so, they were once again overlooked, and in 1820, settlers completely ignored the treaty and began taking the land for their own. Merely 31 years later, only 20 Passamaquoddy remained and following another 30 years, that number plummeted to 0.
In March at last, the tribe had summed up $355,00, enough to buy back their land. Donal Soctomah, the Passamaquoddy’s historic preservation officer, explained, “Our concept of land ownership is that nobody ‘owns’ land. Instead, we have a sacred duty to protect it. This is like finding a lost relative.” Their reclaim of the island marks the most recent success for US indigenous groups in their attempt to regain nearly 1.5 billion acres that they rightfully own. Throughout the past couple of years there have also been successes for other tribes across the country. In July of 2020, he Esselen tribe was able to reclaim 1,200 acres of land in Big Sur for 4.5 million dollars. Additionally, the Wiyot tribe regained Duluwat Island in California. The city of Eureka reinstated their ownership of the land for no cost.
The Passamaquoddy tribe specifically, was able to purchase Pine Island with the aide of First Light, a sum of ecological groups located in Maine. It were founded four years ago and their incentive is to help tribes regain ownership of their lost lands. Mark Berry, a forest director of Nature Conservancy, one of the groups involved with First Light, shared his take, “We have a role in the systemic injustice that was inflicted on indigenous people and therefore a responsibility addressing that.” Nature Conservatory was responsible for a large chunk of the funding towards Pine Island and has also returned land to tribes in other states, such as Nebraska, Alaska, and Oregon.