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Tribal-state commission fills roster
Written by Jeff Tuttle
from Bangor Daily News
For the first time in three years, the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission is poised to have a full slate of members, with a legislative panel on Tuesday unanimously backing the appointment of Paul Jacques, a former state lawmaker now serving in the Baldacci administration.

But while the group's roster might be full, its coffers are not, with one tribe yet to pay any of its $11,900 annual share to fund the panel - the only formal link between the state and its two largest tribes.

Jacques' nomination to the post comes as the group struggles to rebound after years of discord. That period included a long stretch of inactivity after tribal representatives, angered by the 2003 defeat of their plan for a casino in southern Maine, boycotted MITSC meetings for more than a year.

"It's pretty clear the levels of frustration ... have gone from very low to very high," Jacques told members of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee during his afternoon hearing. "I have no delusions about the task before me."

If confirmed by the Senate, Jacques - the last state appointee - will round out the state-tribal panel. The group, created as part of the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, was designed to help resolve disputes about - and recommend changes to - the historic but controversial act.

The group includes four tribal appointments - two by the Penobscot Indian Nation and two by the Passamaquoddy Tribe - and four state appointments. Those eight members then choose the ninth, who serves as chairman.

In January - more than a year after the resignation of its last chairman - the group elected Paul Bisulca, a Penobscot and the first-ever American Indian to head the commission.

Bisulca on Tuesday said Jacques' experience in wildlife matters would benefit the group, and his appointment would provide much needed balance.

"I want to make sure the decisions that come from MITSC represent fairness," said Bisulca in a telephone interview. "Otherwise there will be a question as to our legitimacy."

There already have been plenty of questions, although more about the group's effectiveness than its legitimacy.

The panel has come under fire in recent years as tribal officials criticized its inability to promote substantial changes to the act, which they see as unfairly limiting their sovereignty.

The Passamaquoddy Tribe, which led the 2003 walkout, has been most vocal in its disappointment. Last year, the tribe's representative to the Legislature introduced a bill to abolish the group and replace it with an intergovernmental tribal-state board of 14 members.

After Bisulca's election as chairman, however, the Passamaquoddys asked that the bill be defeated, and it was.

But the Passamaquoddy support for the group remains in question, as they have yet to contribute their $11,900 share of MITSC operating expenses.

The money shortage could force the group to stop its work by late May or early June, according to its executive director, John Dieffenbacher-Krall.

Passamaquoddy leaders did not return telephone calls Tuesday. But Bisulca said tribal officials assured him they would consider the matter at the next council meeting.

"But I don't know how they'll vote," Bisulca added.

Also on Tuesday, the Judiciary Committee, in a 9-4 vote, approved the reappointment of Michael Hastings of Hampden to MITSC. Hastings is a longtime member of the panel.

Jacques, of Waterville, is a newcomer to the commission. He now serves as deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. A Democrat, he has also served 18 years in the Maine House - including a stint as majority leader.

Both nominations will go to the Senate for confirmation.

Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission (MITSC)
13 Commissary Point Road, Trescott Township, ME 04652
Office: 207-733-2222
Paul Thibeault, Managing Director: 207-271-7762

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