Chair of Tribal-State Commission Leaving Post
Written by Anne Mostue
from Maine Public Radio
The Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission, also known as MITSC, is an inter-governmental entity created in 1980 as a supplement to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act.
MITSC's job is to review the effectiveness of the act, and the social, economic, and legal relationships between the state and three tribes: the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Passamaquoddy Tribe, and the Penobscot Indian Nation.
"There is no good oversight of the implementation of this act," says Paul Bisulca, the chair of MITSC. He's a Penobscot Indian Nation citizen, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and a retired army officer. He served as a Penobscot legislative representative in the 1990s, and his work for MITSC has been on a voluntary basis.
"I signed up for a four-year tour of duty, I finished my four years and that's it," Bisulca says.
But Bisulca says his decision to end his service is because of frustration with the state over tribal relations. He says poor communication and a sense that the state does not believe in the tribes' ability to govern themselves are his biggest concerns. He says the Maine Implementing Act of 1980 allows for the tribes to increase their independence over time. Before 1980, they were wards of the state.
"One of the frustrations and one of the dynamics is the failure to recognize that the tribes, as they mature politically, their needs, politically, increase," Bisulca says. "And their ability to articulate within the political system their needs, and to advocate for those needs, increases. Yet the relationship isn't adjusting to that."
Bisulca did not comment on specific or recent disputes between MITSC and the state. MITSC's responsibilities include making recommendations about land to be included in Indian Territory, and making recommendations about fish and wildlife management policies. But there's been considerable tension in recent years over land use and casinos on tribal land.
"One of the things that's very frustrating when we talk about this is you talk about the state as a monolith," says David Farmer, a spokesman for Gov. John Baldacci's office. "You have the Legislature, where you have term limits, and committee chairs that come and go. And I think that both the past chairs of the Judiciary and the current chairs, they're different. But they were all very open and very willing and interested in trying to improve tribal relations."
The Legislature's Judiciary Committee is responsible for overseeing the relationship between the tribes and the state through MITSC. Co-chair Larry Bliss says, in the past, the relationship between the committee and MITSC has been strained.
"I think it's understandable that Paul Bisulca was frustrated," Bliss says. "The tribes have historically been frustrated by the actions of the state. I think at times people who act on behalf of the state have been unnecessarily suspicious of the actions of the tribes and that has frustrated any ability to work together."
Bliss says he was disappointed to learn of Bisulca's departure. "He brings an array of qualities that I think are crucial: He's been in the Legislature. He is a Maine Indian. He has incredible leadership potential. So I think it's a terrible loss that he's not continuing as chair."
The next chair of MITSC will have to be appointed by the commission's ten other state and tribal members. Calls to two of Maine's Indian Tribal chiefs were not returned by airtime.
Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission (MITSC)
13 Commissary Point Road, Trescott Township, ME 04652
Paul Thibeault, Managing Director: 207-271-7762