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Tribal sovereignty push flops in Maine as Gov. Mills’ veto of key legislation stands

Tribal sovereignty push flops in Maine as Gov. Mills’ veto of key legislation stands

Maine lawmakers failed Thursday to override the governor’s veto of a invoice that will have expanded the sovereignty of Native American tribes within the state by making certain extra federal legal guidelines apply to them.

It’s a defeat for the tribes, that are certain by a land claims settlement that places them on completely different footing than the nation’s different 570 federally acknowledged tribes.

Each chambers had voted to enact the invoice with big-enough majorities to override the veto, however some Home members backtracked below strain by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. She contends the invoice was imprecise and would result in prolonged and contentious litigation in coming years.


The 84-57 Home vote fell in need of a two-thirds majority after tribal Rep. Aaron Dana, a Passamaquoddy, implored lawmakers to vote for the tribes, saying they need the identical factor that the nation’s Founding Fathers wished.

“We search equality. We search life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And we search the freedom and the pursuit of happiness below a relationship the place we have now the entry to the legal guidelines handed by Congress to make native communities safer and more healthy,” he mentioned. “Nothing extra, nothing much less.”

Tribal leaders criticized the governor, calling her an obstacle to progress, whereas providing because of lawmakers for his or her help.

“It’s extraordinarily disappointing that the governor insists on retaining her thumb on the tribes and the Legislature. She clearly is not going to be deterred from utilizing any authority she has to oppress the tribes,” mentioned Chief Rena Newell of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik.

Mills, for her half, mentioned she stays keen to work with the tribes to make sure they’re not excluded from advantages usually out there to different federally acknowledged tribes, and known as for a “collaborative, respectful method” that she mentioned has been profitable previously.

It was an necessary invoice for tribes in Maine who’ve lengthy regretted buying and selling a few of their rights to the state below an $81.5 million settlement that was signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Clarissa Sabattis, Chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseets, foreground, and different tribal leaders meet with Maine lawmakers, Wednesday, March 16, 2023. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday vetoed a invoice backed by many advocates for tribal sovereignty. (AP Photograph/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

The settlement for the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot and Maliseet, together with a 1991 settlement for the Mi’kmaq, permits them to be handled very similar to municipalities topic to state legislation as an alternative of dealing straight with the federal authorities like different tribes. The settlement allowed the tribes to amass tracts of land so long as they stayed below state legislation and allow them to obtain state schooling {dollars}. However the relationship additionally led to disagreements, and a number of other lawsuits.

The governor contends tribal properties complicate jurisdictional considerations as a result of so many landowners abut tribe-owned land. The governor additionally says only a handful of federal legal guidelines don’t apply to the tribes in Maine — such because the Indian Healthcare Enchancment Act and the federal legislation governing catastrophe response — and that these might be dealt with on a case by case foundation.

Mills has urged the tribes, the legal professional basic and different events to work collectively to craft a proposal that’s “clear, totally vetted, and effectively understood by all events.”

However the tribes more and more see her as standing in the way in which of adjustments they are saying are mandatory to enhance their lives. Final week, Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis mentioned he thinks the governor desires “to guard an outdated guard and outdated mindset” by sustaining the established order. And Dana, the tribal consultant, mentioned Thursday that a few of the governor’s feedback in regards to the laws had been “harmful and deceptive.”

Supporters contend the the proposal particularly carved out sure federal legal guidelines together with the Clear Water Act, Indian Mineral Growth Act, Water High quality Act and Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. However the governor contends the invoice’s language failed to attain the purpose.


The day began on a constructive observe on the subject of tribal relations. The governor introduced she signed a invoice to make sure the later settlement with the Mi’kmaq higher aligns with rights and advantages of the opposite tribes. The governor mentioned it proves what might be achieved with “dialogue and collaboration.” She additionally signed two different tribal-related payments.

In March, tribal leaders in Maine used their first deal with to the state Legislature in twenty years to name for larger autonomy after a broader sovereignty proposal stalled final yr below a veto menace.

A invoice to offer full sovereignty to the tribes this session is being held over, which means it’ll be handled by lawmakers subsequent yr.

Tribal leaders had been optimistic in regards to the future.

“We had been by no means going to take a step backwards with regards to our sovereignty. We’re at all times going to be taking a step ahead,” Dana after the vote.


Francis of the Penobscot Nation added: “Although at the moment was a loss on the ground of the Home, we’re assured transferring ahead we’ll solely acquire larger help.”

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