As Daily Kos has covered, Indigenous folks continue to face discrimination, oppression, and overall lack of autonomy both globally and specifically in the United States. There is a long, painful history of abuse toward Native folks—take, for example, the recently discovered remains of 215 Indigenous children at a residential school in Canada—as well as systemic issues, like lack of access to clean water and poverty, that face folks today. On a very fundamental level, many Indigenous folks still live under the effects of colonialism, with little by way of significant reparations.
One example of widespread colonialism? The long, long history of (literally) stealing Native people’s lands. As Daily Kos has covered, some tribes have been able to “buy back” their land once snatched from them (though even that win comes with a legal caveat in regard to actually being able to govern the land), which is certainly a step in the right direction. Albeit an expensive, exhausting, and ultimately unfair process, in that the land never should have been stolen, to begin with. As recently reported by The Guardian, the Passamaquoddy tribe, bought back Kuwesuwi Monihq (also known as Pine Island)—a 150-acre island off of Maine in Big Lake that holds a deep history for the tribe. Reacquiring land that should never have been taken from them has taken 160 years.
How did the tribe achieve this? Chief Williams Nicholas told the Guardian that on the fourth of July last summer, he realized the island had been listed as for sale for $449,000. Pine Island, mind you, was renamed White’s Island on the listing but Nicholas recognized it regardless.
“The land was stolen from us and it’s been every chief’s goal ever since to return it,” Nicholas told the outlet. The tribe raised $335,000 after working with First Light, a collective of conservation groups, timber companies, trusts, and philanthropies founded in Maine with the intention of returning tribal lands to rightful owners.
“This is about keeping our heads down and centering tribal voices,” First Light member Peter Forbes told the outlet. “If the land hadn’t been stolen, they wouldn’t need to buy it back in the first place.” In the big picture, this is the sentiment we should all have when it comes to allyship in general.
“Our concept of land ownership is that nobody ‘owns’ land,” the tribe’s historic preservation officer, Donald Soctomah, added to the Guardian. “Instead, we have a sacred duty to protect it.” He added that this process was like “finding a lost relative.”
As attorney and tribal citizen Michael-Corey Francis Hinton told the Bangor Daily News, the island was originally used as a place for the tribe to store food in root cellars. In addition, when European colonizers brought smallpox, the tribe used nearby space to quarantine infected folks. “Pine Island is a part of that story of survival and resilience,” Hinton told the outlet. “We were literally given small pox blankets. … So that’s how this island really took on this really significant, sacred meaning, through survival in a pandemic.”
Hinton told the Portland Press Herald that the reacquisition of land is so much more than just a symbolic win. “It's a sign of the growing relationship between the tribal community and the conservation community," he told the outlet. "This land was so important that after the Passamaquoddy fought in the American Revolution they were told that they could have hunting and fishing rights in perpetuity.”
One simple way you can help support Native folks? Read, promote, and share Native art, like books, movies, and other media sources. And as always, check out our exciting interview with educator Prairie Rose Seminole, a citizen of the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota and descendant of the Sahnish/Arikara, Northern Cheyenne, and Lakota Nations about how to be a good ally.