Tribes want to keep sovereignty bid on Mainers’ minds as it remains stuck in Legislature

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine tribes are launching an advocacy effort to keep their push for sovereignty on voters’ minds as the future of a wide-spanning bill before the out-of-session Legislature looks uncertain.

That bill was introduced last session as a vehicle for sweeping changes to a 1980s agreement between the Penobscot Nation, the Passamaquoddy tribe and Maine. Wabanaki leaders say the agreement reduced them to the status of municipalities in the state. The state has separate, but similar laws governing the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and the Aroostook Band of Micmacs. The latter tribe never ratified the agreement.

The bill was supported by the Legislature’s top two Democrats, racial justice and environmental advocates, but faced heavy resistance from gaming, municipality and textile industry groups. Gov. Janet Mills, who made improving the state-tribal relationship one of her administration’s goals after eight years as attorney general, raised concerns about the scope of the bill.