Tribal Issues in the News

We track local, state, and national news coverage and editorials about issues important to the tribes in Maine, and have included excerpts from recent articles below. For more news from the Wabanaki Alliance, visit Latest News on our homepage, our Archive, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

As a new legislature begins, Wabanaki tribes hope a long elusive goal is within reach

Maine Public
January 4, 2023

Tribes in Maine say they’ve received an unprecedented amount of support from state lawmakers in recent years. Exclusive rights to online sports betting. Legislation to address longstanding water quality issues for the Passamaquoddy tribe. The Wabanaki Alliance, tribal members, state lawmakers and others gathered in Augusta Tuesday night — on the eve Gov. Janet Mills’ second-term inauguration — to celebrate several years of legislative progress.

Perplexed by Sen. King’s response to Wabanaki legislation
A guest editorial by the Honorable Thom Harnett, who served as House chair of the Judiciary Committee in the 130th Maine Legislature and was an assistant Maine attorney general for 27 years.

Portland Press Herald
December 18, 2022

As the House chair of the Judiciary Committee in the 130th Maine Legislature and as an attorney, I have worked hard to better understand the restrictions facing the Wabanaki nations and the unique federal and state laws that govern the tribes’ status. One issue raised to the Judiciary Committee was the challenge created by Section 1735(b) of MICSA, which states that no federal law passed to benefit tribes applies in Maine unless the law itself specifically mentioned the Wabanaki nations by name. No other federally recognized tribe is subject to such a sweeping exclusion, which has barred the Wabanaki tribes from accessing federal resources for disaster relief, domestic violence prevention and public health challenges. While the state Legislature has attempted to address this issue, the Maine Attorney General twice made clear that he believes this issue is best addressed by Congress. That is why I was heartened to see U.S. Rep. Jared Golden introduce HR 6707, legislation that corrects this inequity prospectively. This legislation has passed the House of Representatives and now sits in the Senate. To encourage its passage, many constituents reached out to Sen. Angus King for assistance. Unfortunately, his response left me perplexed. For the sake of the many Mainers who received a similar response, I want to try to clear up some misconceptions.

Harvard study finds sovereignty constraints on Maine tribes caused them enormous economic damage

Portland Press Herald
December 8, 2022

A new study by researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School has concluded that Maine’s tribes have been economically hobbled by the restrictions placed on their sovereignty and ability to access federal Indian policy under the terms of the controversial 1980 land claims settlement agreement. The study by the Kennedy School’s Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development compared the economic performance of Maine’s four federally recognized tribes with tribes in the other 47 contiguous states between 1989 and 2020. Adjusted for inflation, the other tribes in the country had an average per capita gross domestic product growth of 61 percent in the period – far greater than the U.S. average for all citizens of 11 percent. The figure for Maine’s tribes was just 9 percent, less than one-sixth the performance of other tribes. And the reason, the report’s authors say, is the restrictive regime set up under the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, or MICSA.

Congress should fix law harming tribes in Maine
A guest editorial by Nicole Friederichs, director of the Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples Clinic at Suffolk University Law School and co-author of a report that studies the drafting and enactment of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act.

Bangor Daily News
December 1, 2022

When Congress held its hearings on the proposed federal legislation to settle the land claims made by the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe in July 1980, the version of the bill they discussed did not contain what would become section 1735(b) — sometimes referred to section 16(b) — prohibiting the application of future federal laws benefiting native peoples and nations in Maine. In fact, there was nothing in that version of the bill, a bill heralded as the “product of the negotiating process between the [Tribes] and the State of Maine,” that came even close to such a prohibition.

Indigenous Peoples Day a time to talk about improving tribe-state relations
The BDN Editorial Board

Bangor Daily News
October 9, 2022

Indigenous Peoples Day is not only a day of symbolism or a day off from work for some. It must also be a day of action, a day of learning and a day of continuing conversations — both in the halls of power and in the hearts and minds of Mainers.

40-year-old answers are out-of-step with what Mainers want for Wabanaki tribes
A guest editorial by James McCarthy, a retired journalist who lives in Brunswick and member of the Committee on Indian Relations of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.

Times Record
October 7, 2022

I’m disappointed that Sen. King essentially gave a 40-year-old answer to these questions, one that aligns with views expressed by Gov. Janet Mills. He replied: “It is important to note that The Settlement Act was just that — a settlement — which entailed benefits and burdens to each of the parties.”

Really? Even the U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times to make it more just and equitable for all U.S. citizens. 

Tribes in Maine have been left behind. Congress should fix that.
A guest editorial by Kevin Hancock, the CEO of Hancock Lumber Company and a past member of the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission.

Bangor Daily News
September 23, 2022

It’s my hope that our federal lawmakers will remember that they are entrusted with a special responsibility to federally recognized tribes and thereby support their economic sovereignty and right to self-government. Respecting the voice and wishes of tribal communities is the least we can do as we work to overcome a past in which indigenous tribes were denigrated and denied the most basic rights our country stands for. Federally recognized tribal sovereignty should not be withheld from Maine’s tribal communities.

Wabanaki sovereignty bill sponsored by Rep. Golden passes U.S. House

Maine Beacon
July 15, 2022

The U.S. House on Thursday passed a bill that, if ultimately approved, would ensure the Wabanaki Nations are no longer excluded from federal laws that benefit other recognized tribes around the country. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, received bipartisan support, passing on a 329-101 vote. The measure was included as part of a package of amendments added to the National Defense Authorization Act by a 277-150 margin, Golden’s office said in a news release.

The Maine Idea: Tribes have waited too long for governors’ respect
A guest editorial by Douglas Rooks, a Maine editor, commentator and reporter since 1984, and the author of three books. 

The Times Record
July 14, 2022

Gov. Janet Mills isn’t cruising to re-election, but she’s in an increasingly strong position. The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision obliterating abortion rights in many states, forcing women’s health clinics to shut down services overnight, plays to her strengths. She’s a co-founder of the Maine Women’s Lobby, with a strong pro-choice voting record throughout her career. Her principal opponent, Paul LePage, has been reduced to near-incoherence, satisfying neither pro-choice or right-to-life voters and apparently wishing the whole issue will go away, which it won’t. So it might be a good time to lean back, consider carefully, and take her foot off the brake when it comes to the rights of Maine’s Indian tribes.

Bill to give Wabanaki tribes parity under federal law advances

Maine Public
June 15, 2022

The House Natural Resources Committee today advanced a bill to give Wabanaki tribes in Maine the same access to federal laws and protections that benefit nearly every other federally recognized tribe in the country.

Sponsored by Congressman Jared Golden and cosponsored by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree the Advancing Equality for Wabanaki Nations Act would update federal law to allow tribes in Maine to receive the same benefits as their peers.

Bill to give Maine tribes benefits of federal laws advances

Associated Press
June 15, 2022

A House committee on Tuesday advanced a bill that would allow Native American tribes in Maine to benefit from future federal laws, despite a state land claims settlement. Wabanaki tribes in Maine are governed by the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 that stipulates they’re bound by state law. That sets them apart from the other 570 federally recognized tribes. The federal bill won’t change the state settlement, but would update federal law to give Maine tribes to benefit from federal laws going forward.

Gov. Mills signs bill to give Passamaquoddy Tribe access to cleaner drinking water

Bangor Daily News
April 21, 2022

Gov. Janet Mills has signed an amended version of a bill to provide members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe greater access to clean drinking water. The governor signed L.D. 906 just 10 days after tribal members staged a rally outside the State House in Augusta demanding that they be given access to better drinking water. Demonstrators said the tribe’s current source is unhealthy and unsafe. Under the law signed Thursday, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point will be able to drill wells on sources of groundwater located on tribe-owned land without seeking state approval.

Associated Press logo, Letters A and P in black on white background with red stripe across the bottom

Maine governor signs bill letting tribe regulate its water

Associated Press
April 21, 2022

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A Passamaquoddy Tribe reservation in Maine has been granted authority to regulate its drinking water, opening the door to greater sovereignty. Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law on Thursday that gives the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point the right to secure clean drinking water by drilling wells on tribe-owned land and working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency instead of state agencies. The tribe has long been frustrated by poor water quality that sometimes caused brown liquid to flow from faucets at Pleasant Point, also called Sipayik.

Tribes Now Garner Strong Support in State Water Legislation Signed into Law

Quoddy Tides
April 22, 2022

Governor Janet Mills may have been sharpening her veto pencil for the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s drinking water bill when legislators removed the bill from her office on April 19 and amended it, in order to address the governor’s concerns. The amendment that was then approved by the House and Senate clarifies jurisdictional issues that the governor had raised. Mills then signed the bill on April 21. 

In historic appearance before Congress, Maine tribes urge that future federal laws apply to them

Maine Public
March 31, 2022

The leaders of the four Wabanaki Indian tribes in Maine appeared jointly before members of Congress for the first time in more than 40 years on Thursday, testifying in support of a bill that they said is necessary to restore their tribal sovereignty.

In newest gaming debate don’t forget how Maine tribes have been unfairly shut out in the past

Bangor Daily News Editorial Board
March 2, 2022

“Maine tribes have repeatedly been blocked, by  voters and by state government, in efforts to enter the gaming industry. This continued exclusion has not been fair. So as lawmakers consider a bill that would give tribes control of a new mobile sports betting market, we view this as a potential rebalancing of a situation that has historically left them behind.”

Tribal leaders, other groups testify in support of bill to overhaul controversial 1980 agreement

February 15, 2022

Lawmakers heard more than eight hours of testimony on Tuesday in support of a bill that would dramatically change a decades-old agreement between the state and tribal nations in Maine. The hearing comes at a time when the Mills administration has been negotiating a separate proposal with tribal leaders.

In February of 2020, leaders of tribes in Maine stood before state lawmakers to support a series of recommendations aimed at restoring tribal sovereignty. Two years and one global pandemic later, many of those tribal leaders were back – albeit virtually – along with more than 1,000 others who submitted written testimony in support of a bill to overhaul the state’s relationship with the four tribes in Maine. The bill, LD 1626, has also garnered support from a broad array of organizations, including religious coalitions, environmental groups and other nonprofits.

Maine Voices: Mills should stress action, not words, in committing to tribal sovereignty

This guest editorial by Shirley Hager and James McCarthy explains how Gov. Mills’ latest Indigenous Peoples’ Day message highlighted incremental fixes that don’t effect systemic change. 

November 24, 2021

“We need action – not self-congratulatory words or feel-good references to Maine’s ‘first stewards’ that completely gloss over the many ways our state continues to keep the Wabanaki people under its thumb as if they were no more than municipalities. Passing L.D. 1626 would be the best way to fulfill the governor’s pledge to ‘recommit ourselves to our shared home and future with respect and trust for one another.’”

Find links to other news coverage of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Rally for Wabanaki Rights at the bottom of this post.

Maine tribal leaders say Indigenous Peoples’ Day is call to action, reform

October 11, 2021

AUGUSTA — As Maine celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day for a third time Monday, tribal leaders called for deeper reforms to restore the rights of Maine’s tribes and help indigenous communities.

Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana said the change from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day remains a cause for celebration. But she and other leaders also said it is time for meaningful changes that would give tribes more independence under Maine law.

Our View: Indigenous Peoples Day is a time to look back and ahead

Bangor Daily News Editorial Board
October 11, 2021

“Symbolic action, however, cannot be the only action. It’s time for meaningful reform to parts of the 1980 land claim settlement that, while ending a significant amount of uncertainty at the time about ownership of two-thirds of the land in the state of Maine, also set the stage for decades of friction. It is in the state and the tribes’ best interest to rebalance this relationship as one of cooperative, self-governing partners. It’s also the right thing to do.”

More work remains as we celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day
The history of tribal/state relations affects how people live today and points to what we should do next.

October 11, 2021

From this editorial from the Portland Press Herald Editorial Board:

“Bills have come before the Legislature to put the tribes in Maine on the same footing as federally recognized tribes in other states, but one was tabled and the other, which would have allowed tribes to regulate gambling on Indian land, was vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills.

At the time, Mills pledged to work with the tribes to overcome her technical objections and address these historical inequities. We urge the administration to continue that work and develop bills that will make a real difference in the lives of tribal people in Maine.”

Without self-government, Indigenous Peoples’ Day does not honor Maine’s Wabanaki tribes

October 8, 2021

In this guest editorial, Chief Clarissa Sabattis of the Houlton Band of Maliseets and Chief Kirk Francis of the Penobscot Nation share why passing LD 1626 is the only way to truly honor Wabanaki tribes.

“To celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day you first must appreciate and respect Indigenous people. You must understand the importance of the inherent sovereignty that is the backbone of our heritage and culture. You must trust us to self-govern. The only true way to celebrate Indigenous people in Maine is to change the system that treats us differently than every other tribe in the country.”

It’s time to correct legal inequities harming Maine’s tribes

September 24, 2021

In this guest editorial, former Maine Attorney General and state Senator Michael Carpenter–who supported the Settlements Acts in 1980–explains why he now backs efforts to change them.

“Nothing in life is set in stone. I no longer embrace views I held strongly more than 40 years ago on any number of issues, including how the government-to-government relationship between the tribes and state should be understood and practiced. I’m hopeful LD 1626 , the bill that encompasses the task force’s recommendations will finally be approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills in 2022. LD 1626 provides us the opportunity to right a wrong and restore the full rights of self-determination to the tribes in Maine that are enjoyed by 570 federal tribes across the nation in 49 states.”

The Quest For Clean Water On Maine Reservation

August 31, 2021

For decades, members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe have issued a message to family and visitors to their reservation at Pleasant Point in the state of Maine: Don’t drink the water. Residents there have long complained about its color, smell and tests reporting excess levels of contaminants. Recent efforts to improve the water treatment system have some members hopeful that a fix could be on its way. But as Maine Public Radio’s Robbie Feinberg reports, tribal leaders see the solution as a matter of tribal sovereignty.

Wabanaki tribes, community rally in Maine to support tribal sovereignty
Tribal leaders are advocating for the same rights as federally recognized tribes.

August 2, 2021

BANGOR, Maine — Members of Maine’s Wabanaki Tribes gathered Sunday at the Bangor Waterfront for a solidarity rally. They used it as an opportunity to engage with the community and educate people on their push for tribal sovereignty.

“What the Penobscot Nation and with our allies are really trying to accomplish here is a cleaner water system. One that respects the culture and heritage of the Penobscot people,’ said Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis.”

Associated Press logo, Letters A and P in black on white background with red stripe across the bottom

Mining CEO defends comments that Maine tribes lack rights

July 20, 2021

PATTEN, Maine (AP) — The head of a Canadian mining company has defended comments in which he touted the state of Maine as a good place to do business because of a lack of rights for tribal groups. Wolfden Resources wants to develop a precious minerals mine in rural Maine. The chief executive officer of the company, Ron Little, has faced criticism recently because of comments he made during a 2019 presentation to investors in which he said there are “no indigenous rights in the state of Maine” and that “streamlines the permitting process.”

The Natural Resources Council of Maine, which opposes the mining project, shared the videos with Maine tribes, the Bangor Daily News reported. Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis has described the statement as “obviously not an accurate comment.”

Gov. Mills vetoes bill to provide gaming rights to Maine tribes
Leaders of the 4 tribes reacted harshly to the veto, which was issued just hours before the measure would have become law without the governor’s signature.

June 30, 2021

AUGUSTA — Gov. Janet Mills vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have allowed Native American tribes in Maine to open casinos or other gambling businesses on their tribal lands. The bill, approved by the Legislature in June, would have ended years of state government opposition to allowing tribes in Maine to open casinos as a means of economic development.

In a lengthy, four-page veto message, Mills detailed her efforts to repair the state’s frayed relationship with the Wabanaki, whose tribes include the Maliseet, the Micmac, the Passamaquoddy and the Penobscot. But Mills said the bill, which would have restored federal gaming rights that were stripped from the tribes in a 1980 law that settled a land dispute between the tribes and the state, was fraught with problems.

Leaders from the four tribes reacted harshly to the veto in a prepared statement issued shortly after the Mills administration released the veto message.