Environmental and labor groups sent a letter to Gov. Janet Mills this week urging her to do more to include the Wabanaki tribes of Maine in offshore wind talks, claiming tribal leaders have “not felt heard or particularly welcome” at state or federal permitting discussions.

Maine Legislature Offshore Wind

A lobster boat passes the country’s first floating wind turbine off the coast of Castine in 2013.  Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press, file

None of the four Wabanaki tribes signed the open letter, which was sent to Mills on Wednesday, but leaders of the 12 labor and environmental groups that did sign off said they got approval to do it from Wabanaki Alliance staff, a coalition of the four local federally recognized tribes.

“We know that success calls for a broad, inclusive and collaborative approach,” the letter reads. “While not intentional, however, not all parties felt consistently heard or particularly welcome during these discussions, and we as a state are still not meeting the full definition of inclusivity.”

The groups are urging the Mills administration to engage the tribes in discussion in these areas:

• Consider the tribal impacts of building, assembling and shipping turbines out to sea

• Discuss how to protect tribal cultural resources, sustenance fishing and iconic fish species


• Ensure formal tribal representation on the Offshore Wind Research Consortium

• Explore how comprehensive community benefits and workforce standards can help the tribes

In response, the Governor’s Energy Office said that Maine has welcomed tribal involvement from the start. The office met with tribal leaders in January 2021 when it released its offshore wind roadmap, and invited tribes to join an advisory committee and work groups.

An offshore wind procurement law passed in July will put a tribal representative on the consortium, but not until the law takes effect in October. Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note has met to discuss port siting with the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik.

“The Mills Administration is committed to working collaboratively with Maine’s tribal communities on offshore wind to ensure the economic and clean energy opportunities from the growing industry are accessible to tribal members,” said Deputy Commissioner Tony Ronzio of the Governor’s Energy Office.

Likewise, Ronzio said the Mills administration would continue to work to ensure that “any potential negative effects on tribal communities from offshore wind are examined and avoided to the greatest extent possible.”


But Amy Eshoo, the director of Maine Climate Action Now, one of the letter’s signatories, said that tribal participation is not meaningful if members are not made to feel welcome and respected. An invite alone is not enough, she said. The tribes, she said, must be treated like a partner, not a spectator.

Eshoo acknowledged that the tribes might not end up on the same side of the offshore wind argument as most Maine environmental groups. But meaningful negotiations might turn them into an offshore wind convert, as it did with at least one Maine lobstering trade union, she said.

“Even if we disagree at the end, the process will be stronger by having everyone at the table,” Eshoo said.

The tribes themselves aren’t commenting on the Aug. 30 letter right now, opting “not to respond to this press opportunity,” according to a Wabanaki Alliance spokesman. But in March, they sought a national moratorium on all offshore wind leasing and port siting through a regional tribal alliance.

Under the leadership of Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis, the United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund passed a resolution saying that federal efforts to permit offshore wind projects to address climate change have put unfair financial burdens and deadlines on understaffed and underfunded tribes.

It has been particularly difficult for tribes because federal authorities have combined the environmental and the national historic preservation assessments of the wind projects into one process, rather than two separate evaluations, putting further stress on already underprepared tribal governments.

The tribes want a new scoping and permitting process that includes a formal role for tribes and includes avoidance measures, minimization of impacts and integration of Indigenous knowledge to protect tribal environmental, cultural and sovereign interests.

They want to share jurisdictional authority over these wind projects with federal and state governments and use these projects to empower tribal communities by realizing socio-economic benefits, such as job opportunities, revenue sharing and support for the developoment of tribal energy projects.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story