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The importance of preserving Indigenous rights

Happy Indigenous People’s Day! For years, this day has caused controversy by few over the supposed “erasing” of Christopher Columbus, who, upon arrival, began a long, vicious cycle of genocide towards Indigenous peoples in North America.

Over the years, criticism lauded to the Indigenous Peoples Day has become less. While I am a non-Indigenous person, the day makes me appreciative as those who have been systematically oppressed receive the recognition they deserve. However, the fight is long from over in protecting Indigenous rights.

Nationwide, we still have “oil barons” reigning free in attempting to exploit vulnerable populations and Indigenous land to develop pipelines. Firstly, these “oil barons” are polluting the planet further and plunging us further into a climate crisis. Secondly, they are completely disregarding the involvement of Indigenous peoples. The best observed is the Dakota Access Pipeline case.

Multiple tribal nations, including the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, are in an ongoing lawsuit alleging “the lake for various purposes, including drinking and consider the waters of the Missouri River to be sacred” according to Reuters. Already, worries exist about a potential oil spill, which, given the “oil barons” of the major companies, will utilize lobbying power to their advantage to have lenient safety while reaping mass subsidies for projects.

Furthermore, the United States and three other countries have yet to ratify the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This declaration is a needed step to “address both individual and collective rights; cultural rights and identity; rights to education, health, employment, language, and others. It outlaws discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters concerning them. It also ensures their right to remain distinct and to pursue their priorities in economic, social, and cultural development.”

Noting back to states opposing UNDRIP, other countries include Australia, Canada and New Zealand. These states have oppressed Indigenous groups, with Australia oppressing Aboriginals, New Zealand oppressing Maori and Canada, like the United States, oppressing many Indigenous groups. In the meantime, these three countries have taken measures to improve the rights of Indigenous Peoples. There is one country that has not: the United States of America. It is past time that we as a country stop simply supporting what is right and move to endorsing the declaration. This sends a message that “We the people are created equal” and recognizes the rights of those who have been systematically oppressed and whose land is stolen.

Maine has made some improvements regarding Indigenous rights for the Wabanaki. However, it has not been ideal or nearly enough.

To set the stage, in 1980, the Passamaquoddy, the Penobscot Nation and President Carter reached an $81.5 million settlement. In this agreement, the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy traded some tribal rights with the State of Maine, most specifically land with the jurisdiction of waterways. Digressing, the settlement can be altered if the tribes and state agree to changes. Throughout, the rights on both ends have been respected. These could be better.

In 2022, hope seemed on the horizon with increased tribal sovereignty to have the same rules other federally recognized tribes have. After passing both chambers, the bill was ultimately vetoed by Governor Mills. The state legislature failed to override legislation. Ultimately, this represented a defeat for the tribes. Previously, Representatives Golden and Pingree and Senator King attempted to amend federal legislation guaranteeing similar rights for tribes. Unsurprisingly, Governor Mills opposed this legislation.

Again, there is hope this year for tribal sovereignty to gain a footing via Question 6. Question 6 lays out in official prints of the Maine State Constitution that the land was given by the Wabanaki Nations. Unsurprisingly, Governor Mills argues, “But more importantly, the rights and responsibilities of the State and the Wabanaki Nations are not defined by treaties, but instead the state and federal statutes that codify the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement of 1980.”

Here, she fails to neglect that some treaties can be subject to courts, and not to mention, the 1980 settlement has seen a willingness of the State Legislature, Federal Representatives, and, most importantly, tribes supportive of amending. The one who is not in the right is Governor Mills, who instead chooses to curb tribal sovereignty at any point possible to ensure the Wabanaki Nations have the sovereignty they deserve.

More is at stake as we honor Indigenous People in their struggle for recognition. Throughout, they have been systemically oppressed through bloodshed, pillage, rape and discrimination. It is time to change that perception by acknowledging Indigenous Peoples Day while standing for their rights year-round. Nationally, petition lawmakers against future oil pipelines, and statewide, advocate in favor of Question 6 for the Nov. 7 election.

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