The Passamaquoddy Tribe has reacquired 140 acres of a culturally significant island on Big Lake, near Indian Township.

The tribe completed the deal in March by partnering with the Nature Conservancy and the advocacy group First Light.

Attorney and Passamaquoddy tribal citizen Corey Hinton said the land on Pine Island, or Kuwesuwi Monihq, located in Big Lake in Washington County, was traditionally used by the tribe as a place to store food, but has been in private hands for decades.

“For us to be able to reacquire the lands that our ancestors dwelled on, that our ancestors relied upon and co-existed with, that helped our ancestors form the cultural identity that we rely on today, it’s really significant,” Hinton said. “And you really cannot understate the importance of returning the people to the land.”

Hinton said Pine Island played a vital role for the tribe for many years as a place where food was stored in root cellars. He said when European settlers brought over smallpox, the tribe used a nearby island to quarantine infected members and dropped off supplies for them on Pine Island.

“And Pine Island is a part of that story of survival and resilience. We were literally given smallpox blankets,” Hinton said. “So that’s how this island really took on this really significant, sacred meaning, through survival in a pandemic.”

Hinton said that he hopes tribal sovereignty legislation in the Maine Legislature will make it easier for the tribe to reacquire other lands.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.