AUGUSTA – Four decades after it was enacted, Maine’s tribal leaders and lawmakers are looking to change a land claims settlement act that tribal leaders said undermines their sovereignty.
On Tuesday, more than 20 recommendations on how to improve legislation were presented by a task force made up of Democrats, Republicans and Maine tribal chiefs.
“We are the original inhabitants of this place. We care about this state and these lands far more than anyone else,” said Chief Kirk Francis of the Penobscot Nation.
Lawmakers said the overarching theme is to bring Maine tribes more in line with those in other states, and with federal law.
They said the big difference is the state of Maine oversees tribes, whereas in the rest of the country it’s the federal government.
And tribal leaders said that means they’ve missed out on grants and legal protections.
“The current implementing act had a lot of differences between each individual tribe and so this is going to treat all the tribes the same…tribes were really feeling like they were stagnating,” said Rep. Donna Bailey, D-Saco, who also serves on the task force.
The recommendations touch on everything from use of natural resources to gaming.
“We’ve been treated more like wards of the state…we never gave up any sovereignty when we signed the land claims and there really is a way to move forward together,” said Maulian Dana, Penobscot Nation ambassador.
Lawmakers said since the original legislation was passed in 1980s, there have been no substantial changes.
“The better question is why haven’t we looked at it before. This is long overdue,” said Rep. Barbara Cardone, D-Bangor, who serves on the Judiciary Committee.
From here the committee could draft a bill based on the recommendations.