Bangor Daily News Article February 18: Janet Mills’ criticism of Maine tribal sovereignty push surprised some who crafted it

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AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of the Maine task force that crafted tribal sovereignty recommendations Gov. Janet Mills criticized for being too sweeping didn’t know how she felt until last week despite months of work under her administration’s eye.

Mills, a Democrat, said Friday she had concerns with the “sweeping nature” of a proposal aiming to restore sovereignty to Maine’s four federally recognized tribes, pointing to how the changes would affect the ability of municipalities to weigh in on tribal development, how federal law would apply to tribal land and how many state regulations would no longer apply there.

In interviews on Monday, members of the Maine Indian Claims Task Force, which began meeting in July, said the governor’s office never raised those concerns while recommendations were being created. The task force was required to have at least one non-voting member of the governor’s office appointed to it by state law.

The task force made 22 recommendations that, if approved, would make substantial changes to a state law created to implement a 1980 federal land claims settlement with the Penobscot Nation and the Passamaquoddy Tribe. Its implementation boxed Maine tribes out of sovereignty provisions enjoyed by other U.S. tribes in gaming, natural resources and taxation.

Passamaquoddy Vice Chief Maggie Dana of Pleasant Point said Mills’ reaction was like a “punch in the gut.” She said she was hopeful after listening to Mills’ State of the State address last month and thought the governor would stake out a progressive stance on the issue.