Maine tribal leaders address the legislature for the first time in two decades

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 8:47 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - For the first time in two decades, leaders of the five Wabanaki tribes in Maine addressed a Joint Convention of the Maine Legislature.

”It was a historic day, not only for us, but for the state of Maine,” Clarissa Sabattis said.

Clarissa Sabattis, Chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseets, says the tribes and the state have come a long way.

”We really are just here to work together. We know that we have a shared space, and it is our hope that we can continue to work on both sides of the aisle for some meaningful changes for all of us,” Sabattis said.

Still, she said there are some challenges to work through which include the passage of tribal sovereignty, a proposal that was tabled last year when Governor Mills threatened to veto it.

“Making changes so that we can go ahead and have our court, we’re able to exercise its full jurisdiction without asking for permission on creating MOUs and having laws passed,” Sabattis said.

Tribal Representative Aaron Dana says limited sovereignty is not sovereignty. He says they’re looking to Legislature to change that.

”We have done treaties, and we have had the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act in place before, and these give us our sovereignty rights and state that we have sovereignty rights. Now, we need to have the people understand that we are in that position where we can self govern ourselves. Now, we no longer need somebody to take care of us,” he said.

Granting the tribes more autonomy will not just benefit them, but also the state as a whole.

”We would definitely have a boost in employment. We would have a boost in medical care, not just for us, but in the surrounding communities as well,” Dana said.

For Chief Sabattis, she says she walks away from with hope.

”We can’t continue to accept the things that we cannot change as tribal and non-tribal leaders. We have to change the thing that we can no longer accept,” Sabattis said.