The celebration across two tables at Sans Souci yesterday was a little unusual. There were the customary crisp-shirted lawyers, their cuff links gleaming. "We're waiting for nine of our clients," one said.
The nine were Indians from three Maine tribes who were there to celebrate an $81 million victory in their long-fought leal battle for land in the state.
"We've waited 11 years for it," said Allen Sockabasin, director of Tribal Governors Inc.
"We've waited about 400 years," said Suzan Harjo, from the Native American Rights Fund here.
"This time the Indians won," laughed Andy Akins, a Penobscot from Old Town, Maine.
"Well, we usually win," said Sockabasin, "but we never won this big."
The Indians had argued -- first in a lawsuit against the state, and later in other negotiations -- that 12 million acres had been taken from them illegally in the 19th century. In late September, Congress authorized settlement of $81.5 million in land -- 300,000 acres to be purchased with $54.5 million, and $27 million in permanent trust funds for the Penobscot and the Passamaquoddy tribes. The bill was signed yesterday by President Carter.
So only lunch at Sans Souci would do. (It was the idea of Harjo and Tom Tureen, tribal attorney. The bill later: $260.)
Around the tables, separate conversations sprang up. On one end -- much joking. On another end -- in quiet conversation, Terry Polchies of the Malisett Indians and Jim Sappier of the Penobscots paused solemnly, raised glasses of white wine, clicked them in a split-second toast, and continued talking. In the settlement, the Malisetts will receive 5,000 acres of land and federal recognition as an Indian tribe.
The group included Hogan and Hartsen's Stu Ross, who worked for the Indians on the case, as well as Maine Attorney General Dick Cohen, and Deputy Attorney General John Patterson.
It wasn't always this relaxed. "We didn't appear much in public with these guys," said Tureen, who was sitting next to the attorney general. That was when the suit was still in district court in Maine. "This was a long and bitter fight."
Akins put his partridge feather hat down on the table. For the occasion, he wore beaded yellow deerskin (ceremonial dress). "I'm very happy it wasn't hot out," he said.
A restaurant captain arrived.
"I'd like a Miller Lite," said Akins. No Miller Lite.
"Bourbon and Tab?" asked Atkins.
Tureen buried his head in his hand. "We don't believe in diet drinks," the captain explained. Guffaws.
"Okay, bourbon and Coke," Akins said.
The waiter announced the house specialties in thick French accent: "Avocado with crabmeat . . ."
"No muskrat?" inquired "Butch" Phillips, a tribal negotiator from the Penobscots. The waiter went blank: "Muskrat?" Phillips laughed and gave him a pat on the shoulder.
"We can live with the settlement," said Phillips. [They originally wanted two-thirds of the state of Maine.] The definition of a negotiated settlement is one where both sides are not completely satisfied with it. In this case, that's true."
"But there's no place this could have happened except in America," said Tim Love, governor of the Penobscots.
Next to one of the celebrating tables, tourists Judy Goodman and Virginia Patterson from Lexington, Ky. -- dressed in gold jewelry and blazers -- slid over the bench to ask a few questions.
"I told them my great-great-grandmother was an Indian," said Patterson. "They said, 'So were ours.'"