A representative of the three-member White House task force which has recommended a $55.5 million settlement of the Maine Indian land claims warned yesterday that large and small landowners in central or northern Maine should accept the federal proposal or face dire economic effects.
Elliot Cutler briefed reporters, legislators and members of Gob. James B. Longley's staff on the term of the recommended settlement. Cutler was accompanied by A. Stephen Clay, another member of the task force. A similar briefing was held yesterday at the White House for representatives of the 14 large landowners involed in the settlement.
"We have concluded that the Indain claims are not frivolous," Cutler said. "They could be entirely successful, and they may take years to resolve if they are not settled."
He said the White House was eager to "eliminate the cloud of litigation" over the lives of countless citizens and others whose property ownership could be cast in doubt.
Cutler pointed to the Indian lawsuits against the city town of Mashpee. Mass., where realestate transactions have been locked while the Indian claims were being litigated.
If you multiply this 1,000 times you get some understanding of what could happen in Maine," he added.
Cutler said the White House will ask Congress in 60 days to enact legislation implementing the suggested settlement unless the state and the large landowners begin talks on their own proposed settlement.
The White House plan provides for the federal government to appropriate $25 million to the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indian tribes to extinguish their claims against small landowners and businesses in the 9.2-million-acre area claimed by the Indians.
The tribes would purchase 300,000 acres now held by 14 large landowners for $1.5 million. This land would be put in trust for them by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The tribes also would have options on 200,000 acres. Funds - another $3.5 million - to help the tribes purchase these lands would come from the federal government.
In addition, the state would be obligated to continue paying $1.7 million annually to the two tribes for the next 15 years. This amount is the present level of Maine's support payments to the Indians. In exchange, the tribes would drop their claims to 350,000 acres of state-owned land.
Most state officials were shocked at the proposed settlement, which had been agreed to by the Indians.
Maine Attorney General Joseph E. Brennan termed it "irresponsible and indefensble." Brennan said "apparently the federal government and the tribes have joined together to deliver the people of Maine a set of non--negotiable demands of staggering proportions."
Many members of the legislature who attended the briefing but who were not permitted to question Cutler were displeased.
"I would favor going to court," said State Rep. Richard *J. Carey. "There's where this case should be. Not in a meeting on somebody's peanut farm."