Sweeping recommendations would overhaul Maine’s Indian land claims act

AUGUSTA — A task force reviewing a contentious 40-year-old settlement between Maine and tribal governments is proposing major changes to give tribes broader authority over issues including taxes, gambling and fishing.

The recommendations and 200-plus pages of supporting documents are the latest attempt to change the landmark law that was supposed to resolve the tribes’ land claims against the state, but has, instead, spurred decades of tension, lawsuits and political fighting.

After meeting for more than six months, the task force produced recommendations that if enacted would restore some of the sovereignty that the leaders of Maine’s four federally recognized tribes say was taken from them by the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act.

Chief Kirk Francis of the Penobscot Nation acknowledged Maine’s tribal leaders were initially skeptical, having participated in multiple previous groups studying a settlement that he described as “an utter failure.” But Francis said the recommendations, if implemented by the Legislature, have “the potential for tremendous impacts on some highly disadvantaged people and some very proud governments.”

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