Commission recommends wide ranging reforms in tribal-state relations
Written by Gale Courey Toensing
from Indian Country Today
The Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission’s annual report recommends broad reforms in its budget process, consultation and education to improve the tribal-state relationship.
The report was distributed to Gov. John Baldacci and tribal leaders in November, but as of press time the commission had not received any feedback, said MITSC Executive Director John Dieffenbacher-Krall, who wrote and compiled the report.
MITSC is an inter-governmental entity formed in the Maine Implementing Act, the state companion bill to the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (MICSA). MITSC’s mission is to continually review the effectiveness of the MIA and the “social, economic and legal relationship” between the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Indian Nation, the primary tribes in the act.
The report not only reviews MITSC’s activities over the past year, but also includes reports, testimony and other public documents, serving as an important historic record.
The opening paragraph of the executive summary of the 94-page report lays out the overarching theme of the past year.
“Tribal-state relations, after experiencing a positive two-year trend of improvement, precipitously plummeted in April 2008. Though specific individuals and their actions caused a rupture in tribal-state relations in the early spring of 2008, these developments occurred in the context of a negative longer term trend of unilateralism. Both the State of Maine and the Tribes too often act unilaterally though the State does so from a position of political, legal, and economic advantage while the Tribes revert to unilateral action from exasperation that they cannot resolve their disputes with the State in what they believe to be a just manner,” the report says.
The relationship between the tribes and the state fell apart last spring in the aftermath of a legislative session that saw the defeat of four tribal-related bills that would have benefited the tribes.
“In order to fix the broken relations, MITSC believes that the signatories (of the settlement act) must return to jointly determining their future,” the report says, offering four recommendations:
• Adopt a new budget process for funding MITSC. Last April, the judiciary committee led a successful effort to cut MITSC’s funding. But in September, MITSC Chairman Paul Bisulca announced that the commission would no longer participate in the legislative budget process, because the statutes say that decisions about the commission’s funding and how it is spent must be made on a government-to-government basis on the executive level. MITSC recommends that its funding be determined at the Annual Assembly of Governors and Chiefs when the state governor meets with tribal leaders
• Enact the recommendations of the governor’s Tribal-State Work Group. Eight recommendations were presented in a bill to the legislature during the last session would have, among other things, reaffirmed, tribal sovereignty; formally recognized the Maliseets as part of MITSC, exempted tribal governments from the state’s Freedom of Information laws; and required consulting with the tribes before introducing bills that affect them. The bill was stripped to meaninglessness and the tribes refused to endorse it.
• Develop a permanent process for orienting new and returning legislators about Indian Claims Settlement Act and its implementing act, the Wabanaki tribes, and tribal-state relations. Overall, legislators are abysmally lacking in education about the indigenous people, who have lived in the region for some 10,000 years and are among the oldest continuing governments in the world.
• Accelerate implementation of the law passed in 2001 that requires the teaching of Maine Native American history, culture, governments, economic systems and territories in Maine’s schools.
While the report clearly delineates the state’s greater responsibility to take steps to mend the ruptured relationship, Dieffenbacher-Krall told Indian Country Today that the tribes have options other than the executive and legislative branches to move their own case forward.
“I think perhaps engaging some other governmental entities help them to even further enhance the moral superiority of their position and engender even more public sympathy for their positions, but at the end of the day, they have to deal with the State of Maine and those parties have to work it out. That’s the message of MITSC.”
Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission (MITSC)
13 Commissary Point Road, Trescott Township, ME 04652
Paul Thibeault, Managing Director: 207-271-7762