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.

Lawmakers  also passed a bill this month that would ban the use of American Indian mascots or names from public schools in Maine, legislation that followed a contentious debate over a mascot and name change for Skowhegan Area High School.

During her campaign for governor, Mills, a Democrat who had clashed with the tribes during her tenure as Maine’s attorney general, vowed to work toward better relations. Since taking office, Mills has worked on improving relations and some have predicted a “new era” for state and tribal relations.

On Friday, Mills said she believed people and governments are stronger when they recognize the errors of the past and try to take steps to amend them.

“I believe we are are stronger when we seek a fuller and deeper understanding of our history,” Mills said. “I believe we are stronger when we lift up the voices of those who have been harmed and marginalized in the past, because there is power in a name and in who we choose to honor.”


She said 130 U.S. cities, including Portland and Bangor, already had taken similar actions. Mills also said the change was not meant to be a slight to Italian-Americans.

“With this bill let us continue to heal the divisions of the past,” Mills said,”and bring the state of Maine’s tribal communities together with the state and build a future shaped by mutual respect and trust.”

In a prepared statement after the signing, Maulian Dana said the change shows “a true intent to honor the indigenous nations of our state and brings all citizens to an elevated understanding and reconciliation of our shared history.”

She said that as the original stewards of Maine’s land and waters, members of the tribal nations were “happy that our ancestral ties and contributions are validated and celebrated instead of silenced and ignored by the previous holiday that glorified the attempted genocide of our Nations.”

“We are graciously appreciative of this measure that reflects a state that feels more welcoming and inclusive,” Dana said. “Our past can be painful but our present and future can be brighter with acts of unity and honesty.”





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