Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Jacques Ferland

Second Committee Member

Richard Judd

Third Committee Member

Maureen Smith


The Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 brought to a close a tumultuous decade in which the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indians sued the State of Maine for illegal sale and transfer of their aboriginal land. The parties to the suit eventually negotiated an out-of-court settlement to resolve the land issue. While the settlement was originally framed as a watershed victory for the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy, the tribes soon found that the written document did not accurately represent their understanding of the negotiated settlement. Since 1980 numerous misunderstandings have occurred as a result of differing interpretations of the document resulting in timely and costly litigation. The basis of this research stemmed from a concept called "originalism." This concept states that in order to derive at an accurate understanding of a written historical document, it is first necessary to understand the historical context in which that document was created.

This research examines the historical context in which the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act was framed providing insight into socio-economic conditions and circumstances of the tribes prior to bringing suit, the historical relationship between the tribes and the State of Maine, the enormous pressure on both sides to reach an agreement, and finally focusing specifically on one of the most contentious areas of the settlement document referred to as the "municipality clause" as an example of misinterpretations within the document. Despite the unforeseen circumstances that have resulted from misinterpretations of the settlement act, the settlement still provided a much needed shift in the tribes' circumstances, moving them away from poverty and dependency into modernity.