The Penobscot Nation owns about 148,525 acres of land in Maine. The land includes almost 200 islands on the Penobscot River, which are part of the tribe’s traditional pre-colonial territory. The remaining lands were purchased through the Land Acquisition Fund, which was established through a federal appropriations bill signed by President Carter in 1980.
The ancestral home of the Penobscot Nation covered the entire Penobscot River Watershed in eastern Maine. Culturally, the Penobscots are one of the four tribes of the original Eastern Abenaki group. The tribe is a member of the Wabanaki Confederacy. Tribal members speak a dialect of the Eastern Algonquian language. Beginning in 1615, European diseases ravaged the population of the Eastern Abenaki and other New England tribes, reducing the population by three-fourths. The Penobscots actively supported the rebel colonists during the Revolutionary War, partly based on assurances from the fledgling Provincial Congress of Massachusetts that their territorial rights to the upper Penobscot River drainage would be preserved. The Penobscots, together with the Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Micmac, fought alongside the colonists in several engagements. However, early agreements with the Penobscot nation were never ratified by Congress, and repeated petitions for federal aid were rejected. When the state of Maine was organized in 1820, the tribe fell under its jurisdiction. In 1833, the state sold 100,000 acres of Penobscot lands, so that only 5,000 acres remained in tribal ownership.
With the loss of ancestral lands and hunting territories, tribal members were forced to seek other means of sustenance. By the 20th century, many Penobscots were seeking work as seasonal laborers and hunting guides. The lumber and manufacturing industries also provided employment opportunities. The tribe’s situation improved when the U.S. District Court ruled that the Non-intercourse Act was applicable to the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes. Following this ruling, in 1980 the Maine legislature adopted the Maine Implementing Act, and six months later the U.S. Congress approved the corresponding federal legislation. An important provision was the set aside of $81,500,000 for the two tribes. As a result of the settlement, the Penobscot Nation is now recognized as a sovereign, federally recognized Indian tribe, a municipality under state law, and a business entity. The tribe operates the Penobscot Nation Museum on Indian Island. The Sockalexis Bingo Palace is also on Indian Island.