In mid-June, the Maine State legislature passed LD 554, “An Act To Create Gaming Equity and Fairness for the Native American Tribes in Maine”, in a 97-40 vote. The Senate passed the bill 22-13. On June 30th, however, Governor Janet Mills vetoed the bill, and on July 1st, the legislature did not have the two-thirds vote to override that veto. All other federally recognized Tribes located throughout the United States have the authority to operate gaming facilities under the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The Wabanaki Nations, however, have been denied this right under State interpretation of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act. The highly controversial 1980 Settlement Act has been used by Maine repeatedly to exempt the Wabanaki Tribes from numerous rights and protections recognized in all other states.
Bringing Wabanaki Tribes on par with other Tribes in gaming had originally been a part of a still pending omnibus bill that would make changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act in a number areas, but was taken out to be considered separately by the legislature. Despite numerous good faith negotiations on the part of Tribal leaders with the Attorney General’s Office and other State entities, Mills made plain in her final meeting with Tribal Chiefs that she would block any shift away from State control. The corporate gaming lobby also opposed the bill.
The omnibus bill, LD 1626 : An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act will come before the legislature again next session.
Passamaquoddy Representative Rena Newell spoke before the legislature on July 1st, 2021, just prior to a vote that fell short of overturning Governor Mills’ veto. Representative Newell thanked Passamaquoddy Chief Maggie Dana and Vice Chief Ernie Neptune of Sipayik for their presence in the legislative chamber.