More than 700 acres of Wabanaki Territory in Piscataquis County have been returned to the Penobscot Nation through a land stewardship agreement, the tribe said in a joint statement with the Elliotsville Foundation Friday afternoon.
The land is located in Williamsburg Township — west of Brownville — and sits between two parcels already in the Penobscot Nation’s stewardship.
The 735-acre parcel comes from the Elliotsville Foundation, which owns 125,000 acres of timberland throughout northern and central Maine.
“The Penobscot Nation is extremely grateful to [the] Elliotsville Foundation for this generous restoration of land stewardship to our Tribe. We take our land stewardship responsibilities very seriously and appreciate the opportunity to once again have this parcel within our present-day landholdings,” Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis said.
“Through this gesture, Elliotsville Foundation has shown its commitment to strengthen and honor their relationship with the Wabanaki Tribes and recognize our long-standing cultural connection with the land and water,” he said.
John Banks, the tribe’s director of natural resources, said the land and neighboring Pleasant River — which is a tributary of the Penobscot — is “sacred ground to many people.”
“For the Penobscot people, this return expands our existing land base and also actually extends between, and connects, two of our existing Penobscot Indian Territory tracts, making both more accessible,” he said.
Lucas St. Clair, representative of the Elliotsville Foundation, said that he was compelled to “use his platform to tell a different narrative,” after learning about Maine’s history of land ownership and its relation to the state’s indigenous people.
“I learned the Wabanaki believe that they belong to the land and the western perspective is that land belongs to individuals and this is at the root of the misunderstanding of the way we treat land in Maine and around the country,” he said.
St. Clair said the foundation hopes to show confidence in Maine’s Native communities and the Penobscot Tribe as sovereign nations that can take on the responsibility to steward the land.
“While this is not the start or the end of a long journey of [reparations], it is what I can do now and what I hope to do more of while encouraging others to join us,” he said.
The Elliotsville Foundation is also part of First Light, a group that aims to “learn the history of Wabanaki land dispossession and to work together to expand Wabanaki presence in and relationship with their ancestral territory.”
“This is just the beginning of long work at making amends in real ways,” First Light Representative Peter Forbes said.
“After 350 years of colonization, the Wabanaki in Maine now have access to less than 1 percent of the land that once supported their place-based cultures. Maine’s rivers and mountains may carry some Wabanaki names, but the people and the stories that those names belong to have been relegated to small reservations out of sight to most Mainers.
“In the last 50 years, land trusts in Maine have come to work on [or] have relationships with almost 23 percent of the land in the state, which includes countless places of great importance to Wabanaki people and once stewarded by them. First Light exists as a bridge between conservationists and Wabanaki people to reconcile this history by expanding Wabanaki presence and relationship with their territory that we now share together.
“This is good for all of Maine,” he said.