Maine lawmakers fail to override the governor’s veto on a tribal sovereignty bill

Published: Jul. 6, 2023 at 7:35 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - Wabanaki tribal leaders came to the State House Thursday hoping lawmakers would override a veto of a bill that would have expanded the sovereignty of Native American tribes in the state

“We seek the liberty and the pursuit of happiness, under a relationship where we have the access to the laws passed by Congress to make native communities safer and healthier,” Tribal Representative Aaron Dana of Passamaquoddy said.

Governor Mills vetoed the bill aimed at ensuring more federal laws apply to tribes in the state.

“It would benefit us economically, medically, it would help us in emergency situations,” Rep. Dana said.

The bill had passed initially with a veto-proof majority, but some members changed their vote.

The Governor’s veto was sustained by a vote of 84 to 57.

“It is unfortunate that we lost some of our supporters due to lobbying of the governor.” Tribal Representative Aaron Dana of Passamaquoddy said.

Representative Amy Arata of New Gloucester is one of the 12 members who changed their vote.

She says it was due to the Governor’s veto message.

“For me, I have the ultimate respect for the tribes, I really do, and it was a very difficult vote, however, the Governor’s veto message was very compelling and especially the 423-million dollars that they received over the last few years. That is very reassuring to me that they are getting some federal benefits.” Rep. Arata said.

Chief Rena Newel of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Spiyak thanked all parties in a statement, but expressed her disappointment, saying in part,

“It’s extremely disappointing that the Governor insists on keeping her thumb on the tribes and the legislature. She clearly will not be deterred from using any authority she has to oppress the tribes,” Chief Newel said.

The Governor issued a statement that says in part, “I do not want to see the Wabanaki Nations unfairly excluded from benefits that are generally available to Federally recognized Tribes. I simply believe the interest we share to do right by the Wabanaki Nations and Maine people must be accomplished through legislation that is clear, thoroughly vetted, and well understood by all parties,” Gov Mills said.

Meanwhile, Tribal Representative Aaron Dana says the tribes will not give up.

“You know, there have been many bills that we’ve come here, any bill of significance have all been shot down or vetoed in the past. That is one thing I can say as a Passamaquoddy man that I am very proud of us. Our people never give up. We will just keep on moving forward and will keep fighting for our rights,” he said.