Clarissa Sabattis, chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseets, foreground, and other leaders of Maine's tribes are welcomed by lawmakers into the House chamber, Wednesday, March 16, 2023, at the State House in Augusta, Maine. Rena Newell, chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik, Edward Peter Paul, Chief of the Aroostook Band of Mi'kmaqs, and Kirk Francis, chief of the Penobscot Nation, follow behind. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine and its native tribes will have more money this year to keep history alive.

The Maine State Historic Preservation Commission and four tribal communities will get $1.3 million, 30 percent more than last year, from the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund.

Since 1977, the congressional allocation has helped safeguard Maine history and assure that ancestral voices are reclaimed, sacred spaces are honored and tribal artifacts are brought home. One such artifact is an ancestor’s 300-year-old wampum belt that the Passamaquoddy Tribe wants to bring back to Maine from a Pennsylvania museum, tribal officials said.

The commission will get $877,873, $26,243 over last year. The Passamaquoddy Tribe will get $117,521, $33,927 over 2022; The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, $103,705, $29,894 over 2022; Mi’kmaq Nation, $96,176, $27,697 more than 2022; and The Penobscot Nation, $113,769, $32,832 more than 2022.

The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians will use the funds to create a new tribal museum. This is the second time the tribe received historic preservation funding. Construction is slated to take place later this spring with the hopes of finishing the project before next winter.

“This funding will allow us to finish creating a new museum, which we hope will be a source of tremendous pride for both our native community, and the surrounding towns in southern Aroostook County,” said Clarissa Sabattis, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians tribal chief. “We are grateful to receive these funds so that our history can be preserved for future generations to enjoy.”

The money will also help hire a Maliseet tribal historic preservation officer.

“This will allow us to expand our tribal museum and cultural programs for our tribal citizens, while also protecting our heritage,” said Sue Young, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians natural resources director.

Passamaquoddy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Donald Soctomah has already started talks with  Penn Museum in Philadelphia to return the ancestral wampum belt to the tribe.

The Passamaquoddy Tribe uses a portion of preservation funding to support its historic preservation office salary, but the funds also assist with state and federal tribal outreach, Soctomah said.

The Mi’kmaq Nation funds assist with salaries and language classes. This year’s increase was a surprise, Mi’kmaq Nation Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Kendyl Reis said on Wednesday.

“It was definitely eyebrow raising. It’s exciting,” she said. “This is a really good grant and it secures historic preservation.”

Last year’s funding did not provide enough money to cover the Mi’kmaq Nation historic preservation office costs and Reis said she had to seek additional grant funding to cover it. But with this year’s additional funding increase, she can seek grants for additional programs instead.

Penobscot Nation Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Chris Sockalexis chose not to comment on the tribe’s funding.

U.S. Senators Susan Collins, R-ME and Angus King, I-ME, announced the funding earlier this week, pointing to the importance of preserving the culture and heritage of the state’s tribal communities and their efforts to pass down intricate artwork, unique languages and other traditions to younger generations,

Each year under the Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service has awarded more than $2.7 billion in historic preservation grants to states, tribes, local governments and non-profit organizations, since funding began in 1977.

Tribal Historic Preservation Officers assure compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act related to road, school, housing and economic development construction; they provide technical assistance for Native language conservation; they operate tribal museums, archives, and conduct research; and work with repatriation initiatives, to name a few, according to the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers.

According to the National Park Service, state and tribal historic preservation partnerships supported through these funds were nationally responsible for surveying more than 8.5 million acres, listing more than 1,170 historic and tribal sites, and reviewing over 275,000 federal undertakings in 2021.

Historic Preservation Funds come from revenue collected from federal offshore oil and gas development, according to the National Park Service.  

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Houlton area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the LA...