Newell recalled as tribal chief at Sipayik

Rena Newell is the fourth tribal chief at Sipayik to be recalled from office in the past seven years.
Rena Newell gives an interview with a television crew.
Rena Newell seen during her time in the Maine Legislature.

Rena Newell, the Passamaquoddy chief at Sipayik, was recalled from office in a special election on October 10, after serving just over a year of her four-year term.

Tribal members voted 175 to 142 in favor of removing her.

The petition to recall Newell had 185 signatures, with 179, or 50% of the votes cast in the September 2022 election, needed in order for a recall vote to proceed. It was presented on September 19 by Tonia Smith.

Following the vote, Newell stated, “It has been my honor to serve as chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe of Sipayik, and it is my hope that we can all move forward in a good way.”

Newell is the fourth tribal chief at Sipayik to be recalled from office in the past seven years, with Fred Moore III having been recalled in November 2016; Vera Francis in January 2017; and Marla Dana in December 2020.

The vice chief at the time, Elizabeth “Maggie” Dana, had then taken over as chief, but she lost to Newell in the September 2022 tribal election. Two tribal councilors also have been recalled during that period.

Newell noted, in a video she posted before the recall vote, “this cycle of utilizing the tribal constitution to recall elected leaders does not promote unity as a tribe. It creates division within our tribal community.”

She urged an amendment to the Sipyaik Constitution is needed to raise the threshold on the number of signatures needed in order “to stop this unproductive practice.”

Reasons listed on the petitions for her removal from office included failure to meet tribal community members’ needs; failure to competently run tribal government; excessive spending on non-essential items; excessive travel; and failure to live up to campaign promises.

During an October 6 public hearing on the recall effort, she responded to those charges, noting all of the tribal government programs that are provided, from home repair, food and clothing assistance, to youth, elder and medical services.

She stated she had “promised to work hard, and I have done that,” also working nights and weekends. She said her administration has worked to have delinquent tribal government audits from as far back as 2019 completed, and the 2022 and 2023 budgets have been approved.

Concerning excessive spending, she pointed out all expenditures “go through an accounts payable requisition process,” and as for excessive travel she noted “travel at this level of administration is warranted.”

Those supporting the recall effort also had alleged mistreatment of tribal government employees; nepotism and favoritism in hiring employees; lack of transparency and communication with those in leadership; and failure to adhere to the tribal constitution.

Before being sworn into office on October 1, 2022, Newell had served as the tribal representative to the legislature. During her four years as a representative she advocated for a number of bills for the tribe, including the clean drinking water bill for Sipayik that she sponsored and that was passed in 2022 and tribal sovereignty legislation that has not yet been enacted into law.

The Sipayik Tribal Council will now act to confirm the voting results and declare the seat vacant.

The current vice chief, Amkuwiposohehs “Pos” Bassett, can then either choose to become chief or remain in his position. A special election will then be held for the vacant position.

If Bassett becomes chief, tribal member Linda Lingley says she will start circulating a recall petition for his removal from office.

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This story was originally published by the Quoddy Tides, and is republished here with permission.


Edward French, Quoddy Tides

Edward French is the editor and publisher of The Quoddy Tides, a twice a month newspaper founded by his mother Winifred French in 1968. The Quoddy Tides, based in Eastport, is the most easterly newspaper published in the United States and covers eastern Washington County, Maine, and western Charlotte County, New Brunswick, including the Fundy Isles.
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