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Permanent Commission Advises Legislature to Pass Tribal Sovereignty Bill

Tuesday, February 15, 2022 - 10:33

AUGUSTA - Today the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, and Tribal Populations (“Permanent Commission”) joined hundreds of tribal leaders, policy makers, and Maine residents to urge legislative action on LD 1626, “An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act.”

Tribal Sovereignty is one of the ten named policy priorities of the Permanent Commission. In December 2021, the Permanent Commission surveyed 228 Maine residents in attendance at their first public Community Forum. These individuals were asked to 1) identify issue areas most important to address in Maine (out of the following categories: Basic Rights, Basic Needs, Criminal Justice, Education, Employment and Workers’ Rights, Health Care, Housing and Homelessness, Juvenile Justice, Tribal Sovereignty, and Wealth and Income), and 2) identify their top three priorities out of what they ranked. Out of the 228 respondents for the first question, 181 identified Tribal Sovereignty as a priority (NB: respondents could choose more than one priority). Out of 85 respondents who engaged the second question, 57 respondents identified Tribal Sovereignty as the top priority.

“Sovereignty means inherently sacred, inalienable rights, which should never have been put forth on the negotiations table for debate and compromise. Where sovereignty exists, there is an EQUAL government-to-government relationship. Tribal sovereignty is the right to make decisions for our people without outside interference,” said Commissioner Vice Chief Darrell Newell of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkmikuk, Indian Township. “Our communities thrive when we ourselves can lead the efforts to protect our lands and people. Bits and pieces of limited sovereignty, which is what we currently have, is not sovereignty at all. This legislation, LD 1626, makes an attempt at the restoration of our sacred tribal sovereignty.”

In 2019, The Maine Legislature formed a task force to review the Settlement Act and the corresponding MicMac Settlement Act and make consensus recommendations to the Legislature for legislation regarding any suggested changes. In January 2020, the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act issued recommendations to the Legislature. LD 1626 is the culmination of that process and would make the majority of the changes recommended by the Task Force.

“Time and again, recognizing the strain in tribal-state relations resulting from the Settlement Act, Wabanaki tribal leaders have answered the state’s call to return to the negotiating table to develop the amendments that are clearly needed. But time and again, the state has failed to follow through on meaningful changes,” said Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland), co-chair of the Permanent Commission and sponsor of the bill. “We must respect the process that the Legislature initiated with the 2019 task force on changes to the Settlement Act. Doing otherwise amounts to forcing our Wabanaki neighbors to perform political theater with no results but the further erosion of trust. It’s time for Maine to right the wrongs of the past and for us to work together for a better future for all of us.

The Judiciary committee will hold a work session on LD 1626 in the coming weeks. After the committee reports the bill out, it will be voted on by the House and Senate. If successful, it will then be sent to Governor Janet T. Mills for either her signature or veto.

“We are not wards of the state. We are sovereign tribal nations. We are not municipalities. We are Wabanaki people who have been living in our homelands for thousands of years before Maine existed. It is time to heal old wounds and lift up some of the most marginalized and oppressed people in Maine, but also some of the strongest and spirited. We have come back to this table in good faith,” said Ambassador Maulian Dana, Tribal Ambassador for the Penobscot Nation and co-chair of the Permanent Commission. “Deals often don’t work out the way they were intended and it is never too late to set things right. It is time to restore the things we lost in 1980 when our backs were up against the wall and generations of poverty and trauma that were not our fault forced us to agree to this settlement. The problematic language in the settlement act has been suffocating and unlike anything any other tribes in the country have to contend with.”

The Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Tribal Populations is an independent entity with a mission to examine the racial disparities across Maine, and to work toward improving the status and outcomes for historically disadvantaged racial, Indigenous and Maine tribal populations. The Permanent Commission is empowered by state law to advise and consult all three branches of government.