Like most other white Americans, I learned the story of the “first Thanksgiving” when I was very young: first from my family celebrating it, then every year in elementary school. The widely popularized story of the first Thanksgiving is a true story like Disney’s “Pocahontas” is a true story – that is, there are a few true names and facts, but it’s mostly a good fantasy. -to be. Now, “Pocahontas” is an entertaining and artistically beautiful movie (it even won two Oscars), and Thanksgiving can be a wonderful holiday. Gratitude can be an important part of tradition. But neither “Pocahontas” nor Thanksgiving is historically accurate.
It’s incredibly embarrassing to admit, but I don’t know when I realized there were still Native American nations in Maine, but it certainly wasn’t elementary school. There are four: the Aroostook Band of the Micmacs, the Houlton Band of the Maliseet, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Nation. I didn’t think much about the Wabanaki because I didn’t need them. I’ve memorized the 16 counties song of Maine for over 20 years, and as I was writing this I had to google the number of tribes in Maine because I thought there were five, not four. (The Passamaquoddy Tribe has two reservations.) I would like to hope that school programs have improved over the past 20 years, but I have my doubts. What white Mainers teach their children reflects their priorities. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain? Important. The indigenous peoples of Dawnland, who are still there? Not important.
I knew that federally recognized Native American nations had certain inherent rights. What I didn’t know, until very recently, is that because of a pair of laws passed in 1979-1980, tribes in Maine aren’t treated the same as tribes in the other 49 States of America. A lot of legal jargon is involved, and the story is, of course, long and complex, but essentially, because of the wording of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (a federal statute) and the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act (the state law counterpart to federal law), the state of Maine treats the tribes as municipalities, rather than the independent nations that they are. This situation not only violates tribal rights of self-government, but has also prevented Maine tribes from benefiting from more than 150 federal laws passed since 1980. Maine’s motto is (rather well known, I’d like to think) “Dirigo or “I lead.” But it’s an area where Maine not only fails to lead, but also comes last.
The good news is that a legislative solution has been proposed. A bipartisan task force (magic word!), made up of tribal leaders, lawmakers and state officials, studied the issues and came up with several recommendations. A bill, legislation implementing the recommendations of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act Amendments Task Force, aka LD 1626, is before the Legislature Judiciary Committee. When the legislative session resumes in January, LD 1626 will be back on the table. It probably won’t be at the forefront of anyone’s mind, but it should be. Democrats can support it because it will help uplift a long-disadvantaged minority community; Republicans can support it because it helps reduce government interference in the lives of Mainers. (Independents can support it because it will help save money by preventing the state of Maine from going to court to fight the tribes so much.)
By the way, social media can be known as a cesspool, and that reputation is often well deserved, but I heard about LD 1626 on Twitter, when someone retweeted a post from the Wabanaki Alliance that is entered my feed. If you want to learn more about not only LD 1626, but the native people of Maine in general, the Wabanaki Alliance has a presence on all major social media platforms and also has an extremely helpful website.
I am descended from colonizers on both sides of my family. My maternal ancestors were Scottish settlers from upstate New York (Haudenosaunee land). I have no record of their massacres or atrocities, but they were part of a violent system of land theft and genocide. On my father’s side, my great-great-grandfather Simplicio Jugo Vidal was a colonial governor in the province of Capiz in the Philippines, appointed by the Americans at the turn of the 20th century. My ancestors incurred many moral debts. I can’t be proud of who they were and what they accomplished without noticing.
I do not bear responsibility for the actions of my ancestors, but I certainly bear responsibility for mine. So I will reach out to my State Representative and Senator to ask them to support LD 1626. I hope you will consider asking your legislators to also support LD 1626. It will make a big difference in the lives of our fellow Maine people , which we are all lucky to experience.
Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a millennial from Maine. She can be contacted at: