Last spring, the state of Maine Legislature established a Maine Tribal Task Force to review the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act of 1980. The task force was assembled for the state of Maine to reassess its relationship with the indigenous communities located within the state and has been asked to report back to the Legislature with recommended revisions. Lawmakers have referenced past disagreements over the language of this agreement and noted that it is crucial for the act to undergo revision.
“[The language of the agreement] allows for the diminishment of rights, privileges, powers and immunities of the Maine tribes, resulting in a loss of health, education and general welfare compared to the overall population,” according to a Portland Press Herald article. “The State does not prosper when a specific portion of its citizenry suffers.”
An omnibus bill, which is a single bill that encompasses multiple measures to be voted on by the legislature, was introduced and underwent public hearings on Feb. 14. The bill, LD 2094, asks that “the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Penobscot Nation and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians enjoy rights, privileges, powers, duties and immunities similar to those of other federally recognized Indian tribes within the United States.”
At the public hearings on Feb. 14, many members of Indigenous communities across Maine presented remarks on the bill, discussing the need for the revisions as well as stating ways in which Indigenous communities would be affected by this bill.
Sherri Mitchell, an Indigenous rights activist from the Penobscot Nation, addressed members of the judiciary committee to show her support for passing the bill. Mitchell spoke on the long-standing effects that institutionally upheld ideas of racism have had on both the quality of life and policies surrounding Wabanaki people in Maine and urged the committee to consider the ways in which LD 2094 would benefit the relations between Wabanaki people and the state government.
“I have three things that I would like to address in my comments today. One, the history that has brought us to the place we find ourselves in today. Two, the misinformation that is leading to concerns surrounding the Maine VAWA Act. And, three, the mounting inequities that have resulted from the Maine Settlement Act,” Mitchell said. “The history of relations between the State of Maine and the Wabanaki Nations has been built upon [moments that enforce negatively imposed generalizations]. And, they continue to be defined by them today. It is these very same racist attitudes that allow many within the Maine Government to look individual Wabanaki people in the eye and say, ‘it’s not you that I distrust personally, it is just the general idea of Indian sovereignty as a whole that worries me.’ The underlying beliefs that have shaped opposition to the proposed amendments to the Maine Settlement Act are rooted in racially motivated paternalism that publicly calls into question the capacity of Wabanaki Peoples to govern themselves.”
She then went on to state how the negative generalizations have impacted the social and political considerations surrounding Wabanaki people in Maine.
“Today, these same racist ideas are being given renewed social, political and jurispathic force when they are used to call into question the capacity of tribal governments and the legitimacy of tribal jurisprudence in the 21st century,” Mitchell stated. “The only thing that remains unresolved [is] outdated racist attitudes that call into question the capacity of Tribal Nations to fairly disseminate justice. In the meantime, Wabanaki Women and Children remain at risk of being the victims of crimes that their Nations have no ability to address. This is not only unacceptable, it is inhumane.”
Mitchell then went on to urge the committee to vote that the bill ought to pass.
“The negative valuations that have been assigned to Wabanaki Peoples as a group, based on perceived differences and paternalistic leanings, can no longer be used to legitimize hostility toward us or to deny our sovereignty as nations,” Mitchell said. “I ask each one of you to look deeply into your own mind and your own heart and root out these outdated notions of racial superiority. And, I ask you to stand with us in support of our inherent sovereignty as the [Indigenous Peoples] of this land and vote ought to pass on LD 2094.”
The public hearings surrounding LD 2094 have garnered a large amount of attention from Mainers, who have mainly stood in solidarity with the Indigenous community. The Bangor Daily News Editorial Board printed an editorial on Feb. 12 before the public hearings were set to take place in support of the Indigenous community, stating that “reconsideration of parts of Maine’s Indian Claims Settlement can benefit tribes and the state.” Many other publications in Maine have also published letters to the editor which show support for LD 2094.