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Maine State Archives

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The Treaty of Alliance and Friendship between the St. John River Indians and Mi’kmaq Tribes of Nova Scotia, which was signed at Watertown, Massachusetts July 19, 1776, is the first law made in the United States following its declaration of independence and the first international treaty negotiated and concluded with any foreign nation by the United States of America. Anxious to secure the northern border and recognizing the vital role of indigenous tribes in the struggle for independence from Britain, General George Washington requested aid from the St. John River (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Nations.

With Maliseet Chief Ambrose Bear, lead negotiator for the Eastern Indian Tribes, the United States secured the Treaty and with it, the alliance and friendship of the Eastern Tribes whose members fought valiantly in defense of our new nation. Using wording taken from the Declaration of Independence, the Executive Council of the new state of Massachusetts Bay, empowered by the Continental Congress to act on behalf of all 13 states, and the delegates of the Maliseet and Mi’kmaq Nations, led by Chief Ambrose Bear and Newell Saulis, signed the Treaty in Watertown, Massachusetts on July 19, 1776 with James Bowdoin representing the United States of America. The Treaty pledges mutual aid and assistance, respect of each nation’s sovereignty and jurisdictions, exclusive Maliseet access to tribal land and natural resources, and trade.

Referenced in both the United States Constitution and the Maine Constitution, this pre-constitutional Treaty has never been amended or extinguished, and remains legally effective in each and every state in the United States of America by virtue of the Treaty’s express terms. Despite the significance of this first “foreign” Treaty, the federal government inexplicably did not extend formal, federal recognition of these tribes until the 1980s and 1990s in part because these tribes pre-existed the United States and always existed outside of the boundaries and jurisdiction of the new nation. After more than 240 years, the Treaty terms survive to mediate friendly Tribal and non-tribal relations and independent legal rights and obligations remain valid and enforceable in international courts, and in domestic courts as the highest law of the land and for “as long as the sun and moon shall endure.”

Image courtesy of Massachusetts Archives. Text courtesy of Henry John Bear, State Representative, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians.

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Treaty of Alliance and Friendship between the St. John River Indians and Mi’kmaq Tribes of Nova Scotia



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