AUGUST, Maine (AP) — Maine tribal leaders, who have long argued with state leaders over tribal sovereignty, have used their first appeal to the Maine Legislature in 21 years to call for greater autonomy.
The tribes hope to change the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act of 1980, which treats reservations as municipalities subject to state law. Other federally recognized tribes are treated as sovereign nations, and the different status of the Maine tribes has led to conflicts with the state over issues such as natural resources and economic development.
It’s time to modernize the agreement between the state government and the Maine tribes because the current agreement makes Maine Native Americans “exceptional in Indian land,” said Clarissa Sabattis, head of the Houlton Band of Maliseets.
“I look forward to forging a new path forward that is better not only for our tribe, but for this great state that we all call home,” Sabattis said.
The other speakers in an address to the tribal state on Thursday were: Edward Peter Paul, chief of the Aroostook Mi’kmaq group; William Nicholas, chief of the Passamaquoddy tribe in Motahkomikuku; Rena Newell, chief of the Passamaquoddy tribe in Sipaik; and Kirk Francis, Chief of the Penobscot Nation.
The address drew large crowds to the Maine House, lawmakers and tribal members filled the Maine House of Representatives floor, and dozens of activists and tribal allies filled other rooms in the State House to watch the speech on television.
Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, was not in attendance due to a scheduling conflict, said Ben Goodman, a spokesman for the governor. Over the past year, Mills and the Tribes have been at odds over greater tribal autonomy.
A proposal to grant tribal sovereignty was introduced in the Maine Legislature last year when Mills threatened to veto it. The lack of sovereignty puts Native Americans in Maine at a disadvantage compared to hundreds of tribes across the country, tribal leaders have long argued. Mills said last year that she feared the proposal would lead to years of litigation and that greater communication between the tribes and the state was needed.
On Thursday, the governor invited tribal leaders to meet with her “to continue the communication, cooperation and compromise that have underpinned progress in previous legislative sessions,” Goodman said.
Thursday’s speech was preceded by a tribal rally and drumbeat at the Maine State House. This was the second performance of its kind since the first State of the Tribes took place in March 2002.
All five tribal speakers said the tribes needed more autonomy from the state government. They also touched on issues such as the need to improve tribal health services, education and business growth.
Francis said that Maine’s tribes were “stuck in the politics of the 1980s” due to a lack of sovereignty.
“All we want is for the state government to make a decisive break with the past and join an era of self-determination,” Francis said.
The first State of the Tribes event included a resolution from the Maine Legislature stating that the indigenous tribes “had lived in what is now Maine for thousands of years” and “continue to play a vital role in the life of the state and are an integral part of it” . part of the social, economic and legal structure of the state”.
A statement from state leaders said Thursday’s event was “part of ongoing legislative work to strengthen relations between Maine and its tribal neighbors.”
– Patrick Whittle Associated Press