“Tribal-state relations are broken and irreparable until [the state] recognizes the sacred, inherent sovereign rights of the Wabanaki people are recognized first.”
This was the statement by Passamaquoddy Vice Chief Darrell Newell to the Maine State Senate before he gave the opening prayer on Monday, May 9th, 2022.
Though the Maine legislature passed two significant bills impacting the Wabanaki Tribes, the legislation that would have comprehensively addressed Maine’s outlier restrictions on Tribal sovereignty through its interpretations of the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act was left unmoved by the Senate on the last day that action could have been taken this session.
LD 1626, “An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act”, the product of four years of Tribal-State work creating twenty-two comprehensive reforms, was passed by both the House and Senate last month, but was left stalled on the Appropriations Committee table prior to final Senate approval.
Despite this landmark legislative approval and overwhelming public support, one person, Governor Janet Mills, has obstructed the measure, at least for this session.
The Governor, who had earlier communicated her intention to veto 1626 if it came to her desk, elaborated on her threats in a letter she sent to legislative and Tribal leaders at the end of April.
In the letter, she specifically asked that LD 1626 “remain with the legislature,” stating that sending it to her desk “would serve no constructive purpose and only inflame emotions on all sides of the discussion, while likely harming the positive and constructive relationship we have worked so hard to build.”
Without enough votes in the House for a veto override, and no sentiment to change that course, Senators balked at pushing the issue or the bill to the Governor’s desk.
Though a substantial paradigm shift in Tribal-State relations has been slowed by inaction on the bill, it has not been stopped, and the recommendations of the Task Force stand ready for a reintroduction.
In a joint statement by Tribal leaders issued at the end of April, they stated in part:
“As leaders of the Wabanaki Nations, we are disappointed that the Governor and the Attorney General’s office continues to have concerns about the provisions of L.D. 1626. But, in talking with the Democratic legislative leaders and looking to the vote count for L.D. 1626, it is clear that there are not enough votes in the 130th Legislature to override a veto. So, while we have made significant and concrete progress in moving the needle, there is still more work to be done. Time is on our side. Our people have lived with the negative consequences of the Settlement Act for over 40 years. However, we have made more progress in our sovereignty restoration efforts in the past four years than we did in the previous several decades. We need to remember that we started this fight on the backs of our ancestors and those who came before us, and our goal has always been to make progress for the next 7 generations that will come after us…”
“…L.D. 1626 is a product of four years of work, and thousands of individual Mainers supporting our efforts. Today, we ask that our supporters – the thousands of individual Mainers who stood by our sides during the rallies and testified in support of sovereignty restoration – continue to work with us. Today, we ask that those legislators who were willing to lead our legislation, and those who worked in the background to help us navigate the legislative process, commit to continue to walk with us down this path to restore our inherent rights and sovereign powers…”
“…Our ancestors made sacrifices so we could be here today, and it is our sacred duty to continue to press for full restoration and recognition of Wabanaki sovereignty. We look forward to continuing this work with all of our partners and allies.”