In memoriam: Remembering Don Gellers

October 26th, 2014 by admin Leave a reply »

He had become, for those who remembered his feats of courage on behalf of Maine Indians a half-century ago, a mythic figure.

Passamaquoddy of a certain age remembered a young lawyer who stood with the tribe when nobody else would. Mainers who were involved in the Maine tribes’ historic 1980 land claims settlement recalled the guy who got the process going, only to be convicted on a questionable marijuana charge. The history books, when they mentioned him at all, hinted at a quixotic character, an eccentric warm-up act for the real stars of the campaign for Indian justice, who were these books’ only sources.

Additional Images

Don Gellers. File photo from an article published by the Press Herald on March 14, 1966.

Don Gellers as pictured on his Israeli military ID

Don Gellers had been carefully, consciously airbrushed out of a story he did so much to create, an epic civil and human rights struggle of the Passamaquoddy who, when he arrived here in the mid-1960s, were oppressed and abused in ways almost shocking to Mainers today. By challenging and, often, outwitting authorities long accustomed to free rein over Washington County’s blighted reservations, he earned their ire and provoked powerful, autocratic retribution.

Gellers paid a terrible price for taking up the cause of Maine’s Indians, becoming the victim of a state-sponsored conspiracy to drive him out of Maine or into prison, one orchestrated by the Attorney General’s Office, zealously executed by the state police and rubber stamped by judges. The

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