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UPDATE 5/6: Mainers have submitted more than 1,800 letters to the US House Natural Resources Committee in support of HR 6707 so far! If you haven’t submitted yours, please do so now!

QUICK TAKE

Rep. Jared Golden (ME-2) is sponsoring HR 6707, legislation that would amend the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act so that the Wabanaki tribes can benefit from future federal laws that apply to other federally recognized tribes. The House Natural Resources Committee will decide soon whether to advance the bill. Write a letter in support of the bill using the information and talking points below and send it to the committee using this form.

THE ISSUE

For more than 40 years, the Wabanaki tribes have been excluded from federal Indian laws that benefit all other federally recognized tribes. Because of the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (MICSA), federal Indian laws can only apply to Maine if Congress includes an explicit stipulation in the legislation. Enacted in 1980, MICSA extinguished the legal claims of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, Penobscot Nation, and Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians to their historic lands in Maine in exchange for trust funds to allow the tribes to purchase lands and provide general revenue and old-age pensions to their members. In addition, MICSA ratified the state-level Maine Implementing Act, which extended state civil and criminal jurisdiction over the tribes. Notably, MICSA also blocked federal laws that benefit Indians from applying to tribes in Maine if the State of Maine claimed the federal law would affect the application of state law, with limited exceptions. As a result, tribes in Maine have been unable to benefit from more than 151 federal laws passed since 1980, including legislation meant to improve public health, respond to natural disasters, promote economic development, and protect the environment. HR 6707, sponsored by Golden and co-sponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME-1), would fix this decades-long injustice by amending MICSA, extending all future federal Indian laws to the Wabanaki tribes. The bill would also allow the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to apply to the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and the Mi’kmaq Nation in the same way that the law currently applies to the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe under MICSA. On March 31, the chiefs of the four Wabanaki Nations testified in support of HR 6707 before the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the House Natural Resources Committee. (Watch the hearing here.) A number of organizations in Maine submitted letters in support of the bill that are included in the official record. (Find them here.) The full Natural Resources Committee will decide soon whether to advance the bill.

 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • Submit letters of support. The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee will decide soon whether to advance the bill and public pressure could sway their decision. Write a letter to the committee urging representatives to send the bill to the floor for a vote. Find talking points, a template for your letter, and email addresses below. The committee will meet soon, so get your letter in ASAP! You can submit your letter with this form. Or, if you’d prefer, you can send it separately using the template and email addresses below.
  • Write a letter to the editor. Turn your letter to Congress into a letter to the editor! LTEs can be an effective way to demonstrate public support for legislation. Find tips and a list of Maine newspapers and contact info in our LTE Guide. (The guide was written for LTEs on another bill, but the tips apply here as well.)
  • Solicit letters to committee members. There are 47 members on the House Natural Resources Committee, including representatives from across the country. If you have friends in any of the states or territories below, please ask them to contact the representatives from those states who sit on the committee and urge them to support HR 6707. Find the list of committee members here.
 
  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Puerto Rico
  • Guam

KEY TALKING POINTS

  • Since 1980, the Wabanaki tribes have been excluded from at least 151 federal laws that would have supported tribal members, including legislation meant to improve public health, respond to natural disasters, promote economic development, and protect the environment. (See specific examples below.)
  • HR 6707 would put the Wabanaki on equal footing as all other federally-recognized tribes after 40 years of second-class treatment.
  • Tribes in Maine should not be the only Indigenous people in the country excluded from federal legislation that is specifically meant to address their needs.
  • Passing HR 6707 would represent a significant step toward equalizing the federal treatment of Wabanaki tribes with that of tribes in the rest of the country. This legislation is supported by all of the tribes in Maine.
  • While this would only affect tribes in Maine, the entire federal government, including Congress, has a trust responsibility to these tribes.
  • There are good precedents to this bill. Congress has enacted amendments to settlement acts multiple times in recent decades. And in 1983, Congress even amended MICSA itself.
  • Examples of federal laws that have excluded tribes in Maine since 1980 include:
    • The Stafford Act. The Stafford Act makes funds available to tribes that declare a state of emergency in response to natural disasters or public health emergencies. Wabanaki tribes have been denied access to Stafford Act funds, including to address the opioid epidemic in their communities.
    • Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA permits tribes to arrest and prosecute non-Indians who commit certain domestic violence crimes in tribal communities. The Wabanaki tribes fought for years to use VAWA to enhance public safety but VAWA implementation was blocked in Maine until a new state law was passed after significant and lengthy negotiations between tribal and state parties.
    • Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA). Permanently authorized in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act, the IHCIA included a provision to improve the ability of tribal governments to recruit licensed medical professionals to work in tribal health centers. The provision was included in the IHCIA to combat the challenges that tribes face in trying to recruit medical professionals in rural and often isolated tribal communities. The State of Maine has sought to prevent Wabanaki tribes from recruiting licensed medical professionals under this law.
    • Environmental Protection Laws. Through the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, Congress has authorized Indian tribes to assume primary regulatory authority for administering federal environmental programs on Indian lands. The Wabanaki tribes have been the vanguards of environmental stewardship in Maine for generations, as reflected through more recent efforts to promote higher water quality, to ensure clean drinking water, and to restore wildlife and marine resource habitats. These efforts have been routinely stymied due to court battles over the extent to which Wabanaki tribes can access federal laws aimed at enhancing the ability of tribes to protect the environment.

LETTER TEMPLATE

The Honorable Raul Grijalva
Chairman
Committee on Natural Resources
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Bruce Westerman
Ranking Member
Committee on Natural Resources
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Grijalva and Ranking Member Westerman,

[Include the body of your letter here, drawing from the talking points above and your own personal experience and how passing this bill would improve the lives of you and your family, your community and the entire state of Maine.]

Sincerely,

[Your name]
[Your town]

cc: Representative Jared Golden
Representative Chellie Pingree

EMAIL YOUR LETTER

Email your letter to NRDems@mail.house.gov and  ken.degenfelder@mail.house.gov and copy aaron.sege@mail.house.gov and evan.johnston@mail.house.gov