Maine tribal leaders celebrate the advancement of a bill introduced by Democratic Representative Jared Golden in the United States House that would recognize the sovereignty of the Wabanaki Nations.
This week, the House Natural Resources Committee approved HR 6707, a bill that would give the Wabanaki tribes the same access to benefits from future federal laws as nearly all other federally recognized tribes in the United States.
The measure comes after a bill with a similar intent failed to pass the Maine State Legislature this year.
The House bill is co-sponsored by First Representative for Maine’s congressional district, Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, and has the support of the Native American Rights Fund, the National Indian Child Welfare Association, the National Congress of American Indians , as well as the US Department of the Interior.
“We thank Congressman Golden for leading tribal issues not only in Maine but nationally,” Maggie Dana, chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Sipayik, said in a statement. “He understands that when the tribes prosper, Maine and the United States prosper. We are stronger by supporting each other than by dividing us.
“This legislation allows the tribes of Maine to be treated the same as the other 570 federally recognized tribes across the country under any future legislation passed by Congress,” said the Penobscot Nation Chief. , Kirk Francis. “It is a forward-thinking bill that has bipartisan support in Maine. We thank representatives Golden and Pingree for leading the effort, and [House Natural Resources Committee] President Grijalva for putting the bill to a vote and I hope the entire House of Representatives will soon be voted on.
To obtain compensation for the lands taken from them, the Wabanaki Nations and the state agreed to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980. Locked into the 1980 agreement, the Wabanaki Nations found themselves with less authority on natural resources, gambling, taxation and criminal justice than 570 other federally recognized tribes. Tribal members say the Settlement Act has stifled economic development and prevented them from accessing a myriad of federal funds.
“The experimental policy known as the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 is a failure,” said Passamaquoddy Tribe Chief in Motahkomikuk, William Nicholas. “We have forty-two years of litigation, political failures and transgressions against the tribes to prove that it is time to move on.”
An effort by the Maine state legislature to grant tribes access to federal laws passed since 1980 was not supported by Democratic Governor Janet Mills. The bill died in the Legislature Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee without funding in May after the governor ordered committee members to hold the bill over concerns about the bill’s final language. The move was seen by supporters of the bill as an attempt by Mills to avoid an unpopular veto in an election year.
In March, four chefs appeared before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples testify on behalf of Bill.
“After months of close collaboration with Wabanaki tribal leaders, we are one big step closer to greater economic opportunity and fundamental equity for the Wabanaki nations of Maine,” Golden said in a statement.
Federal laws that Wabanaki tribes have not been eligible for include the Violence Against Women Act, which allows tribes to prosecute non-Indian defendants for crimes of domestic violence against tribal members; India’s Health Care Improvement Act, which allows tribes to employ essential health professionals who are licensed in another state; and the Stafford Act, which allows tribes to directly apply for federal disaster relief and emergency assistance.
In March, the Wabanaki tribes were granted expanded jurisdiction over crimes of domestic violence and sexual violence committed on their land in a spending bill signed into law by President Joe Biden.
HR 6707 would remedy this exclusion by amending the Settlement Act to allow Wabanaki tribes to benefit from future laws enacted for the benefit of the tribes.
“Gaining approval from the House Natural Resources Committee is a promising step toward correcting the disparity that has particularly challenged the tribes of Maine for decades,” Pingree said.
Photo from Rep. Jared Golden’s Facebook page.