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Clarissa Sabattis is leader of the Maliseet band in Houlton. Kirk Francis is the leader of the Penobscot Nation.
To celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, you must first appreciate and respect Indigenous peoples. You must understand the importance of the inherent sovereignty which is the backbone of our heritage and our culture. You must trust us for autonomy. The only real way to celebrate the indigenous people of Maine is to change the system that treats us differently from all other tribes in the country.
Due to a 40-year-old regulation called the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, the Wabanaki tribes of Maine generally have more restrictions on our rights than the other 570 federally recognized tribes across the country. The settlement resulted from a federal lawsuit, based on claims by the Passamaquoddy tribe and the Penobscot nation in the 1960s and 1970s that Maine illegally took two-thirds of state land from tribes in direct violation of federal law.
Finally, in 1980, the land claims of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Penobscot Nation and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians were settled out of court through a settlement agreement and a state statute, the Maine implementing law. At the time, our tribes believed that we would be partners with the state and that we would not be treated as wards of the state. Our tribes believed that we would be able to redeem the lands promised in the laws, build our tribal governments, and uplift our communities and economies.
The Federal Settlement Act states that any law passed by Congress for the benefit of Native tribes after 1980 does not apply in Maine if that law affects state jurisdiction, unless Congress specifically includes them. tribes of Maine. While the Wabanaki tribes are not specifically included, we do not benefit from them, unlike the other 570 tribes recognized by the federal government. Since 1980 there has been 151 beneficial laws for the Indian country. These laws cover the gamut from the protection of Wabanaki women against the epidemic of violence against indigenous women to the protection of the environment and access to safe drinking water.
Maine has interpreted state law, Maine’s implementing law, as putting tribes under the control of the state. The intention of federal and state law was for tribes and state to work together and solve problems that the settlement law could not foresee. This is why the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission was created. But unfortunately the commission did not play this role of intermediary between the State and the tribal sovereigns. So what happened instead?
For more than 40 years, the tribes and the state have been in costly litigation. The state chose to maintain paternalistic and aggressively defend the relics of its colonial power over the tribes. And what did it do? It has caused lasting harm to rural communities by interfering with the ability of tribes to provide basic government services, pursue economic development, and take advantage of the benefits and funding provided by federal law.
For example, the state’s treatment of tribes has encouraged foreign mining companies to target Maine due to the perceived lack of indigenous rights.
Last July, Ron Little, CEO of Wolfden Resources, a Canadian mining company, said in an investor presentation, “there are no indigenous rights in the state of Maine” and this lack of indigenous rights ” simplifies the authorization process ”.
In all other states, tribes have a seat at the table and are able to work with federal, state, and local government to create mutually beneficial results. In Maine we face a government that has consistently fought our efforts to protect the environment and now we have that. We shouldn’t have to fight foreign companies to protect our land and our drinking water. Yet this is what we must do because the state largely ignores the rights of the Wabanaki.
Our sovereignty, our right to self-determination, our ability to grow as a community ended in 1980 and the pain persists today. The tribes could not have foreseen the distress in which future generations would have to live because of the colonization law.
We were personally just children at the time. We are not here to debate the intentions of the people who sat around the table in 1980. We are here to say that now – more than a generation removed from the Settlement Act – the law needs to be modernized.
The legislature of Maine investigated and examined the Settlement Act and is about to approve a significant change that will put the tribes of Maine on an equal footing with tribes across the country. There is currently legislation, LD 1626, to Augusta which would remedy much of what afflicts the tribes of Maine.
LD 1626, if passed, will show that people understand, trust and appreciate the tribes of Maine. When this law is passed and hopefully signed by the governor, we can all truly celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. Until the system is changed, Indigenous Peoples Day does not honor the Wabanaki tribes.