Mills signs bill changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in Maine 4/29/2019

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Mills signs bill changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in Maine

The recognition comes as Mills tries to smooth relationships between state government and the Native American tribes in Maine.

Gov. Janet Mills stands with Maine tribal leaders during Friday's signing ceremony for a bill changing name of the October holiday from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in Maine.

Gov. Janet Mills stands with Maine tribal leaders during Friday’s signing ceremony for a bill changing name of the October holiday from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in Maine. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law Friday that establishes a holiday recognizing the indigenous people of Maine, saying that she hoped it would help “heal the divisions of the past.”

Indigenous Peoples Day will replace Columbus Day as an official state holiday on the second Monday of October. The law, based on a bill sponsored by Rep. Benjamin Collings, D-Portland, adds Maine to a growing list of states doing away with Columbus Day and adding a holiday to recognize Native Americans. Maine joins Vermont, New Mexico, Alaska, Minnesota, Oregon, Hawaii and South Dakota in adding the holiday.

Joining Mills and Collings at the bill-signing ceremony were Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana, and chiefs from three of the four federally recognized tribes in Maine and part of the Wabanaki Nations.

In attendance were the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, Chief Clarissa Sabattis of the Houlton Band of Maliseets, Chief Marla Dana and Vice Chief Maggie Dana of Pleasant Point, Chief William Nicholas and Representative Rena Newell of the Passamaquoddy Nation, former Chief Barry Dana of the Penobscot Nation, and former state Rep. Donna Loring, who serves as Mills’ senior adviser on tribal affairs.

Over the past decade-plus, relations between Maine state government and the state’s tribes have deteriorated in large part over persistent disagreement on interpretations of a landmark 1980 agreement that was intended to resolve sovereignty questions.

Two years ago, tribal leaders described the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act as “fractured and broken.

In 2015, the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes withdrew their representatives to the Legislature in protest of what tribal officials said was a long history of the state failing to respect tribal sovereignty on a myriad of issues.

The Passamaquoddy Tribe elected a new representative this year, but neither the Penobscots nor the Houlton Band of Maliseets sent a representative to the Legislature this year.