Saint Andrews – For almost 70 years, the Kiwanis Club has operated a campground at Indian Point, but the Passamaquoddy First Nation claims it never ceded the land to the town.
The issue of the ownership has arisen again, after town council approved a motion at its December meeting to enter into a 24-year lease agreement with the club for the land to continue to be used as a campground.
Kanatiio (Allen Gabriel), who is the negotiations coordinator for the Passamaquoddy, said they have been involved in the negotiations for the campground, and suggested a one-year term in order for them to begin the conversations they need to have with the town.
“In that one year, we suggested the proceeds from the campground go to the local hospital, and we take that time to talk about the longer term issues of the land.”
Archaeological evidence confirmed the ancestors of the Passamaquoddy inhabited their traditional territory from Machias, Maine, to Point Lepreau, and artifacts represent all time frames to the present.
Indian Point (Qonasqamkuk) was the major meeting place of the Passamaquoddy, where sacred ceremonies were held, chiefs were buried, and other activities took place.
The Schoodic Band of the Passamaquoddy, whose chief Hugh Akagi lives in Saint Andrews, continues to actively fight for recognition as a first nation of Canada.
In 1992, the town took the Passamaquoddy to court to secure quiet title of the 100 acres at Indian Point and won the case, leaving the Akagi family with five acres – where Akagi himself still lives today.
“Indian Point is the traditional, cultural, and historical home of my people,” said Akagi.
While the quieting of title took ownership of the land away from the Akagi family, leaving just the five acres for them to share, Kanatiio said it cannot extinguish the aboriginal title.
When the Loyalists arrived around 1780, he said, they agreed to pay 25 English pounds to rent the land at Indian Point for the winter, but they never paid that rent – and they never left. Eventually, he said, most of the Passamaquoddy moved across the border into the US.
“We are not going after third party interests, but there are some parties that are not so innocent, and the town of Saint Andrews is one. The town has known for years that the Passamaquoddy had particular interest in that land,” said Kanatiio.
“Even when the Argyle Court subdivision was being built, people were warned there could be a land claim issue. The town knew they were building on our land,” said Akagi
“They started with the old dump. That’s something they do with native land – then you can claim that as ownership, then they put the sewage lagoon on the land so, in the end, it is town property.”
He said the original use of the land was for the railroad, and the Saint Andrews Railroad Company was given permission to lease it for that purpose.
“We have two choices. We sit down with the parties and negotiate an agreement that is reasonable – that is what we have already tried to do – or we look at the possibility of having to go to court,” said Kanatiio.
“As it stands now, the town says we value our relationship. Your rights are important and must be respected – but we have just rented your land out.
“I think they are interested in having a dialogue. The main point is the RV park. The tribe is interested in getting the land back. We have our ideas, and we need to have a conversation with the community. We have not closed the door on anything, and are still open to dialogue.”
Mayor Doug Naish said the town has not yet signed the agreement for the lease of the land to the Kiwanis, and there is a clause, which both the town and the club agreed to, which acknowledges there is an ongoing process with the Passamaquoddy.
“If we sign the 24-year lease agreement, we are acknowledging there are other parties that are now involved in negotiations that could have an effect on the agreement.
“That was purposely put in the agreement because we became aware of the fact that there is some movement between the federal and provincial governments, and First Nations.”
At present, said Naish, the town has jurisdiction over the land on which the campground sits, whether this is acknowledged by the Passamaquoddy or not.
“I don’t have a problem with them going forward with their negotiations. I respect that. The Passamaquoddy need to get full recognition as a First Nation. That appears to be on the way with the federal government.
“I believe, if they said they were going to give the campground back to the Passamaquoddy, I don’t think we would have much argument about that, but other levels of government should be compensated.”
Similarly, said Naish, if the Kiwanis was to lose the campground, which they have operated for more than 70 years, as the result of some act by the provincial and federal governments, they should be compensated for the money invested in it.
“We don’t know if this is going to happen, so right now we have to operate our municipality, and come to a resolution with the Kiwanis Club after a year negotiating this lease.
“We have to live with that. There is a great deal of sensitivity on council to the rights of the First Nations and we are having productive discussions with the Passamaquoddy.
“For the most part, in the history of First Nations, they have never asked for the return of occupied land. I don’t see the campground as a permanent occupation.”
Naish said he understands the Passamaquoddy feel disrespected, because they asked the town to just give the Kiwanis a one year extension on the lease, but the club has not had a lease since 2012.
“This council said we have to do something here. It is not like we rushed this through. It has been an irritant since 2012, and subject to protracted and intensive negotiations. I believe the town had a mandate to go forward with this.
“Rather than putting it out to tender, and rather than evicting the Kiwanis, council said we want to work with the people who built the campground and, on top of that, there are the rights of the first nations.
“We may well support that but it is outside our jurisdiction. I am hoping we will have a seat at the table if it gets down to the return of land.
“The average course of land claims negotiations between the Canadian government and First Nations is between six and 10 years. Nothing will change in the next 12 months.
“We have been letting the Kiwanis stay on the land on a year to year to basis for $1 a year rent, and that is not reasonable on behalf of the taxpayers. When we sign the agreement, it will be $20,000 a year rent, because they are running a half million dollar business there.”
Naish said the club provides funding for a number of community causes with money earned from the campground, and no one is against good work, but it is being done with money earned from public land.
“It was an unused piece of property when they took it over but, at the end of the day, if you are going to use public property, you should expect to pay reasonable rent for it.
“If other levels of government decide it should be returned to the Passamaquoddy, that is not a problem with me. I won’t defend what happened 200 years ago, because that was not right.
“I am not sure how much say the municipality would have in the outcome. We have been in touch with the provincial negotiators. The other levels of government know we are on top of this, and want to be involved even though it is not our jurisdiction.”
Naish said he would like to see the town work through this without it becoming divisive in the community, and said some councillors were very offended by a recent letter to the editor which implied they were racist.
“I think this is just bigger than the town of Saint Andrews and has to be resolved by the government of Canada. I hope we can get the right result without having divisions arise in the community.
“It is a very important issue. I can tell you I and my council are open-minded on this. The sooner this is resolved, the better it is for the community.”