On Tuesday Jan. 14, the Maine Indian Claims Task Force will present to the Maine Judiciary Committee regarding the state of sovereignty of tribal societies in Maine. The Task Force has been meeting since July 2019 with the purpose of reviewing the 1980 Maine Indian Land Claims Act as well as the 1991 MicMac Settlement Act in order to make reform suggestions to the legislature.
Under the 1980 agreement, the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and Maliseet tribes were given $81.5 million in federal dollars in exchange for ending future land claims against the state. The tribes, which used the bulk of the money to reclaim around 300,000 acres of land that had been taken by settlers, say the agreement has led to disagreements about tribal sovereignty and has stifled native communities economically.
This isn’t the first Native task force to make legislative recommendations. Since 1980, 43 acts have been passed to clarify and expand the Settlement Act under the guidance of multiple task forces, leaving tribal leaders only cautiously hopeful that this most recent will bear fruit.
“We are not asking permission to be sovereign, we are guiding the process towards having that sovereignty recognized. It may be tedious at times but I am hopeful it is worth it,” Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana wrote in a recent Facebook post. “It is this principle that will guide the Task Force’s presentation and foreseeably be reflected in the legislature.”
As the talks began last summer, Penobscot Chief Kirk Frances noted that previous negotiations have not resulted in substantial outcomes.
“This is a document that we are now four decades into, with enough history and a track record to know that this was a failed experiment,” Frances said. “I think that the Land Claims Settlement is a stagnant document that doesn’t move in real time with the progress and the uptick in activity of tribal documents and what we can do.”
Eighteen years after the signing of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, the Great Pond Task Force made headway on water-related issues including aquatic territory, drinking water concerns, and watercraft regulations in 1998. In 2008, the Tribal State Work Group had their desire to expand the membership of the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission enacted in a bid for greater sovereignty.
The final report of the 2008 Work Group noted, “Despite the intentions of the settlement act negotiators that the agreements enhance Tribal Governments, Wabanaki living conditions, and Tribal culture, gains in these areas have been modest and lag far behind other population groups in Maine.”
Photo: Houlton Band of the Maliseet Chief Clarissa Sabattis, Penobscot NationChief Kirk Francis, Senator Michael Carpenter and Rep. Donna Bailey, chairs of legislative Judiciary Committee and Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act. | Sunlight Media Collective