What to know as Maine lawmakers finalize negotiations with tribal leaders

AUGUSTA, Maine — An impending bill that will overhaul state-tribal relations will test how willing Maine is to repair its relationship with its indigenous tribes.

task force of lawmakers and tribal leaders has worked for months to craft changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, the state law tribes say has subverted their federal rights for 40 years. It is expected to release an initial report containing recommendations Friday, which will eventually be turned into proposed legislation.

Tribal leaders are cautiously optimistic the changes will partially restore their sovereignty, but some elements are expected to face opposition in the State House. Task force members say more work on issues such as health care and dispute resolution is needed going forward.

Maine’s tribes never ceded federally recognized rights, but the situation has been complicated for decades thanks to the settlement act. The act was meant to resolve a $150 million land claim lawsuit filed against the state of Maine by the Passamaquoddy Tribe in the early 1970s, a claim that grew even bigger when the Penobscot Nation filed a similar complaint.

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