More than 700 acres of ancestral land in northern Maine has been returned to the Penobscot Nation, one of Maine’s five tribal communities.
Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the foundation that donated 87,000 acres to create the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in 2016, has given 735 acres in the former town of Williamsburg to the tribe, according to a news release Friday afternoon.
The land lies between two parcels already under stewardship of the Penobscot Nation, to the west of the Pleasant River and north of Brownville, and creates a contiguous block of 5,000 acres held by the tribe. The area includes a river ecosystem that is a critical habitat for Atlantic salmon.
Williamsburg, which was dissolved in 1940 to become part of the Northeast Piscataquis unorganized territory, is about 17 miles northeast of Dover-Foxcroft and some 50 miles southwest of the national monument.
The Elliotsville foundation was created by the family of Roxanne Quimby, the 70-year-old philanthropist, conservationist and co-founder of Burt’s Bees Inc., the personal care products company originally sited in Dover-Foxcroft and now part of the Clorox Co.
Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis said in the release, “The Penobscot Nation is extremely grateful to Elliotsville Foundation for this generous restoration of land stewardship to our tribe. We take our land stewardship responsibilities very seriously and appreciate the opportunity to once again have this parcel within our present-day landholdings.
“Through this gesture, Elliotsville Foundation has shown its commitment to strengthen and honor their relationship with the Wabanaki tribes and recognize our long-standing cultural connection with the land and water.”
John Banks, natural resources director for the tribe, added, “This land, the headwaters of the Pleasant River, an important tributary to the Penobscot River, is sacred ground to many people … Consolidation of our indigenous territory is an ongoing priority for the tribe, and this return of land moves us forward in a positive direction.”
Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son and the foundation president, said, “What we hope to do by giving this land back is to show our confidence in the native communities in Maine and the Penobscots as a sovereign nation that they will take on the responsibility to steward this land … While this is not the start or the end of a long journey of reparation, it is what I can do now and what I hope to do more of while encouraging others to join us.”
The foundation, the Quimby family and 50 land trusts and other land-holding organizations are part of First Light, a coalition working to develop arrangements for sharing, returning and co-managing ancestral lands in Maine.