Leaders of Maine's Paseamaquoddy and Penobecot Indian tribes have denounced as "foolish" and "grossly unfair" legislation recently introduced by the four members of Maine's delegation to Congress, involving the Indians' claim to 12.5 million acres of land in the state.
In introducing the legislation March 1, the Maine delegation said it would limit any benefits to the Indians, under future court action, to monetary damages, and would remove any possibility thta the actual land would go back to the Indians. The sponsors said giving back the land and would unsettle the individual titles of the persons living there now and paralyze all business and real estate transactions.
Passamaquoddy tribal governor John Stevens, a former Maine commssioner of Indian affairs, charged, however, that as written, the legislation actually would retroactively ratify illegal transactions taking away the Indians' land 180 years ago and thus deprive them of any claim whatevre, land or money. It "means no claim at all," the tribal leader said.
Although the bail was introduced March 1, neither the House nor Senate committee with jurisdiction is expected to take any action for weeks or possibly months. The committees are awaiting the findings of a special representative named by the President to look into the land dispute.
The special representative, Georgia Supreme Court Justice William B. Gunter, has until June 1 to study the issues and try to recommend a solution acceptable to all.
If he reaches no solution by then, the justice Department, on behalf of the government as trustee for the Indians' land rights, will go into court and seek to establish the Indians' right to at least 5 million and perhaps more of the claimed 12.5 million acres.
The Justice Department was forced to enter the case after lower courts ruled that on the basis of a 1790 law, the Non-Intercourse Act, the government had the duty to help the Indians in pursuing their claims to the land.