On tribal-state relations...
Written by Tony Ronzio
from Sun Journal
Abysmal relations between Maine's Indian tribes and state government need an injection of optimism. Process is central to the tribal-state impasse. Mutual respect exists for each side's authority and sovereignty, though the extent is debated. Breakdowns come in protocol, procedure and parliamentary rules.
Here, the field is seen as unlevel. Tribes feel inferior – justifiably so – in the legislative framework they must navigate, just like everybody else. Except as indigenous people, they're really not like everybody else, though not blameless.
Many think the tribes snared defeat from victory with aggressive lobbying. The Penobscot Indian Nation has since ceased communicating with the state entirely. Goodwill is absent.
These conflicts were rooted in process. How do entities that expect and arguably deserve sovereign treatment lobby another government like a supplicant? How can the state legislate matters in which their cultural experience and intelligence is considered weak by the tribes?
Today, tribal affairs fall under the jurisdiction of the Legislature's busy Judiciary Committee. A select committee on tribal affairs should be created instead; its members should have the legal skills, cultural knowledge and geographic constituencies to deal with tribal matters effectively.
This smaller group would give tribes the one-on-one audience they seek, and would signal a new way of doing things, to convince even the most reluctant members of the tribes and the Legislature to give rebuilding the tribal-state relationship a chance.
Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission (MITSC)
13 Commissary Point Road, Trescott Township, ME 04652
Paul Thibeault, Managing Director: 207-271-7762