Members of the Passamaquoddy tribe say they are grateful to Gov. Janet Mills for her posthumous pardon of former tribal attorney Don Gellers, who was convicted of felony possession of six marijuana cigarettes 50 years ago.
Gellers was a fierce advocate for and defender of tribal members who paved the way for the historic 1980 Land Claims Settlement. His pardon is viewed by some as another step toward improving relations with the state.
Passamaquoddy tribal Rep. Rena Newell was too young to remember the young attorney from New York who became a champion for civil rights and later got himself into hot water with state police and prosecutors.
But Newell thought it was important to be present for the governor's historic announcement, for the Gellers family and for the tribe. Gellers died in 2014. "It was somewhat of an emotional moment to be finally recognized and to have the history, again, corrected in his favor."
In 1968, after a state police sting, Gellers was sentenced to two-to-four years in prison for the drug charge, a sentence that was never enforced by the state. Meanwhile, his co-defendant was released on $500 bail.
Gellers was also disbarred from practicing law in Maine and later emigrated to Israel. Passamaquoddy Vice Chief Darrell Newell from Indian Township says Gellers' efforts on behalf of the Passamaquoddy tribe have never been forgotten.
"Our people, even today, are respectful of him being an advocate for native folks and oppression of native folks and the injustices of native folks. So he was a warrior for the Passamaquoddy tribe."
Rep. Rena Newell says the official forgiveness of Gellers by the governor marks another important step in thawing relations between Maine tribes and the state that have been strained over jurisdictional issues and the right to self determination.