Supporters rally in Augusta on Monday to back passage of a bill to help the Passamaquoddy Tribe access clean water. L.D. 906 is one of several sovereignty bills before the Legislature. Randy Billings/Staff Writer

About 300 tribal advocates and supporters gathered in Augusta on Monday to urge state lawmakers to approve a bill they say will lead to cleaner, safer drinking water for the Passamaquoddy Tribe.

Before the rally, supporters gathered outside the State House and the sweet scent of smudge sticks lingering in the air. They tapped drums, sang and danced. Some carried signs reading: “Water is a human right” and “Our land. Our water. Our future.”

Advocates were urging passage of a bill to give the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point more control over its drinking water supply, which tribal leaders say is unhealthy and unsafe. The Mills administration has criticized the bill and would like to see it scaled back.

“The Sipayik people deserve clean water,” said Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana, who is president of the board of the Wabanaki Alliance, which organized the rally. “As indigenous people we often have to say these obvious statements and we have to advocate constantly.”

It’s one of several bills pending before the Legislature that would increase sovereignty for Maine’s four tribes, which have fewer rights than all of the 570 other federally recognized tribes in the United States because of the settlement acts, a pair of federal and state laws passed in 1980 to settle a tribal land claim to two-thirds of the territory of the state of Maine. Here, tribes are treated more like municipalities, rather than as sovereign nations.

The Mills administration has been looking to pare back some of those bills, especially a bill that would restore full tribal sovereignty.


The clean water bill, sponsored Passamaquoddy Tribal Rep. Rena Newell, has a broad range of community support, including the Maine Public Health Association, Maine Medical Association and the Conservation Law Foundation.

A crowd assembled at the State House Monday, when the Wabanaki Alliance pushed for passage of a bill to help the Passamaquoddy Tribe access clean water. L.D. 906 is one of several sovereignty bills before the Legislature. Randy Billings/Staff Writer

It would exempt the property of the Passamaquoddy Water District, a nontribal entity, from municipal property taxes in order to generate more money for water projects. Other water districts in the state are exempt from property taxes. The Passamaquoddy Water District’s charter, however, contains a specific provision making it subject to property taxes assessed by Eastport and Perry.

In order to allow for alternative groundwater supplies, the bill authorizes two parcels of tribally owned fee land in Perry, close to the Passamaquoddy Indian territory, to be added to its territory through the federal trust acquisition process without local approval.

It also would move primary authority to regulate drinking water standards to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, rather than the state.


Established in 1983, the Passamaquoddy Water District provides drinking water not only to the Pleasant Point, but also the neighboring towns of Perry and Eastport. Water is drawn from Boyden Lake, and the district treats and distributes an average of 200,000 gallons day through 21 miles of pipes, serving 618 year-round customers.


In testimony this year, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged the challenges in maintaining water quality in a shallow waterbody like Boyden Lake. The agency noted the existence of high organic content that changes rapidly with wind and rain.

Dana called the bill a “very, very simple request that should be an absolute no-brainer.” But the Mills administration has raised concerns that the bill would create two regulators for a water district that not only serves the tribes, but neighboring towns as well.

Gerald Reid, the governor’s chief legal council, said in testimony to the Judiciary Committee in February that the bill could potentially make the tribe the primary regulator of the water district, which serves both tribal and non-tribal ratepayers.

Reid said the administration supports exempting the entity from property taxes and land acquisitions provisions, but not the rest of the bill.

“We also believe a jurisdictional change would not advance the effort to solve the water quality problem,” Reid said. “This is not a case of lax or incompetent regulators; it’s an engineering challenge presented by the current water source.”



Passamaquoddy tribal attorney Michael-Corey Francis Hinton said in an interview that provision of the bill is important because it would allow the tribes to work with the federal government to drill new wells. He said the state notified the tribe that a well it dug for a new school required state approval, but the tribe considers it an internal tribal matter. The bill seeks to resolve that dispute, as well as others that may arise. And Hinton said the tribe is willing to address any concerns the administration has.

“This bill represents a very narrow incremental attempt at fixing a small part of the settlement act to address an acute threat to public health,” Hinton said.

It’s unclear why the Passamaquoddy Water District is the only one in the state required to pay property taxes. Hinton speculated in an interview that the district was created using some of the funding the tribe received through the settlement act, which could have played a role.

Passamaquoddy Vice Chief Darrell Newell said in prepared remarks read by Rep. Newell at the rally that Mills is a “contributor to the problem” and could choose to be a contributor to the solution. However, he said the administration’s half measure “amounts to beads and trinkets.”

That remark drew a sharp response from the governor’s office.

“The governor is focused on bringing people together to solve problems, not trading insults at press conferences” spokesperson Lindsay Crete said in a written statement. “She believes that all Maine people deserve access to clean, safe drinking water, and the Pleasant Point Reservation and Town of Eastport have experienced issues with their drinking water for far too long.”


Crete did not respond to questions about whether the governor was in Augusta during the rally, or whether Mills would veto the bill, if approved as written by the Legislature.

Passamaquoddy Chief Maggie Dana said generations of residents have been harmed by dirty, unsafe drinking water. She said at times the sight and smell of the water is offensive. At other times, the water is heavily chlorinated, she said, to “clean up animal feces,” creating a public health hazard.


Dana described the bill is a “crucial piece of legislation.

“This is a clear violation of our human and civil rights,” Dana said. “Our culture is clear: Water is life. And for the Passamaquoddy people at Sipayik, it is poison.”

Crete said Mills has been working with the water district, Passamaquoddy Tribe and federal government to fix water issues since 2019 and expects to install a water treatment system this summer that is expected to result in “significant improvements” to water quality.


The installation of that nearly $1.1 million carbon treatment system was originally planned for 2021, but was delayed because of labor and supply chain disruptions, according to the Maine CDC.

But Dana said tribal members don’t trust the state.

“This is a product of how the state of Maine regulates drinking water served to the Passamaquoddy people,” she said. “This is why we do not feel safe under Maine’s jurisdiction.”

The bill, L.D. 906, is on the House calendar Tuesday, when it could face an initial vote.

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