Tribal leaders, lawmakers voice support of tribal sovereignty bill; Gov. Mills not fully onboard

Published: Feb. 14, 2020 at 6:06 PM EST
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Lawmakers and tribal leaders focused on a proposed law Friday that would give tribes in Maine more sovereignty. But even as many of them expressed support for the bill, Democratic Governor Janet Mills says she's not fully onboard.

A public hearing was held by the Judiciary committee on the bill that would put 22 recommendations for tribal sovereignty into law. A task force spent six months crafting the ideas.

Senator Mike Carpenter chairs the Judiciary committee and the task force.

"It would give them basic autonomy back -- give them their sovereignty back," said Sen. Mike Carpenter, D-Houlton, the Senate Chair of Judiciary who also co-chaired the task force. "That's our goal. And mesh that sovereignty with the sovereignty of the State of Maine."

Maine tribes say they want to be on the same playing field as almost every other federally recognized tribe in the country.

They are currently treated differently because of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980.

"It included a lot of jurisdictional provisions that have definitely tangled up relationships between the tribes and the state for about 40 years now," said Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana.

Dana says the Settlement Act has caused many hardships over the years.

"As far as day-to-day life for Indigenous people in Maine, the Land Claims has affected just about everything for all of the tribes," said Dana. "So it was important for all of us to acknowledge all of our differences and different concerns we may have in communities, but to come together on the common goals."

Some of the highlights include giving the tribes more sovereignty over criminal jurisdiction, taxation, and natural resources.

But even after House and Senate Democratic leaders spoke in support of the bill, Gov. Mills sent a letter to the committee in opposition to a number of elements.

She said she's concerned with the "sweeping nature" of the bill.

Mills said, in part, that if it's passed "the bill would actually have the opposite of its intended effect and would lead to the degradation of the Tribal-State relationship by giving rise to disputes and disagreements..."

How much weight that will carry when lawmakers work on the bill's language is still to be determined.

Another public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Wednesday.