Citizens of Maine, you have a unique opportunity to rectify a grievous injustice perpetrated on Wabanaki tribes residing here. The Legislature will soon deliberate a bill, L.D. 1626, “An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act,” which would restore sovereignty to the Wabanaki over their territories in Maine.

This bill is a top priority of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, the Maine Council of Churches, other faith groups, many environmental groups, prominent labor groups, social justice organizations, and others. In order for the Wabanaki to achieve sovereignty, a two-thirds vote of approval in each house of the Legislature is needed to enable the Legislature to override the governor’s expected veto.

For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples residing in Maine enjoyed sovereignty over all lands and waters within areas now known as Maine. At one time, there were more than 20 tribes living in what is now Maine. Shortly after the Europeans arrived in America, they lost their sovereignty and control over their lands and waters with little or no compensation for their loss. Today, the Wabanaki occupy less than 1% of the acreage in Maine and still do not have sovereign control over their territory. Maine is the only state that has not granted territorial sovereignty to its tribes and has been able to block the tribes within its borders from exercising their inherent sovereignty subject to federal Indian law.

Maine has a long history of violence and racial discrimination against the Wabanaki. Massachusetts and Maine, a territory of Massachusetts until 1820, first tried to exterminate the Wabanaki by implementing substantial bounties on the heads of tribal citizens. Extermination efforts were later followed by efforts to annihilate the Wabanaki culture. Tribal children were forcibly taken from their homes and placed in foster care. There they were made to dress like white children and punished for speaking their native language. Discrimination against the Wabanaki, including the refusal to recognize their sovereignty, constitutes racism in its most harmful form. The Wabanaki have experienced violence, murder, economic, and emotional devastation at the hands of settlers in Maine for hundreds of years.

The United States and Maine have long histories of making and breaking promises and treaties with the Wabanaki. The most prominent of these include George Washington’s promise to respect Wabanaki territories and sovereignty and to provide federal aid to the Tribes in return for Tribal support of the colonists in the Revolutionary War. Other broken promises include failure to enforce the Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790 to prevent illegal taking of Indian lands, and the 1980 Claims Settlement Acts.

The 1980 Claims Settlement Acts promised federal and state funding to the tribes to buy back land in return for giving up their rightful claims to two-thirds of the territory of the state of Maine. At the insistence of state officials, a provision was written into the Settlement Acts stating that the Tribes would be treated as municipalities within the state, which they were told was for the purpose of distributing state aid. The Wabanaki were never told they would be subject to a vast range of mandates and regulations, including human services, natural resources, environmental protection, etc.

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Another provision in the Claims Settlement Acts barred the tribes from coverage under federal Indian laws passed after 1980, unless explicitly included. As a result, the tribes located in Maine cannot participate in over 150 federal laws providing legal, environmental, and other benefits provided to tribes in the rest of the country.

Providing sovereignty to the Wabanaki over their territories will impact less than 1% of Maine’s total acreage. It will also provide substantial federal funding to increase their economic opportunities as a means of sustaining their lives, reduce poverty, and increase their educational opportunities. Since the 1980 Claims Settlement Acts, our federal government has distributed hundreds of millions of dollars to Tribes in 49 states across the nation. The Wabanaki received none of this funding.

L.D. 1626 will not put private ownership of land and water at risk, nor add to the financial burden of Maine residents, and will not prevent hunters and fishermen from accessing hunting and fishing grounds in Maine.

It is time to right the terrible wrongs of the 1980 Claims Settlement Acts. Some question amending the Maine Implementing Act. The U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times. It is time to amend the State Claims Settlement Implementing Act.

Maine residents can help redress the wrongs done to the Wabanaki by contacting legislators and Gov. Mills them to support L.D. 1626 and sovereignty for the Wabanaki.

Mainers can also write letters to the editor, and spread support for the bill among friends and neighbors, and any other means by which the public can be made aware of the importance of this bill.

Edward “Ted” Potter is a member of Racial Justice Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine. His email is [email protected] John Maddaus is a member of the Committee on Indian Relations, Episcopal Diocese of Maine. His email is [email protected] The Reverend Eleanor Prior is Chair of the Racial Justice Commission, Episcopal Diocese of Maine. Her email is [email protected]


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