Written by Editorial Bangor Daily News
from Bangor Daily News
A group set up to foster discussion of tribal issues has done a lot to improve relations between lawmakers and the stateís Indian tribes. The Tribal-State Working Group should be continued so it can get to difficult issues that have resulted in litigation in the past. Lawmakers should support LD 1263, which will continue the groupís work for another year.
Tribal-state relations reached a low ebb a few years ago after a lengthy legal battle over water-quality regulation and opposition to tribal proposals to build casinos. In 2003, representatives of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Penobscot Nation, the stateís largest tribes, left the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission to protest the stateís role in the referendum defeat of a tribal casino in southern Maine and the lack of progress on deciding issues of sovereignty. Although MITSC is now functional again, disagreements over the effects of the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act and the accompanying Maine Implementing Act remain.
After meeting with tribal governors and chiefs last spring, Gov. John Baldacci agreed a new forum was needed to discuss, and hopefully settle, these disagreements. So, he created the Tribal-State Working Group to Study Issues Associated with the Maine Implementing Act. The group includes lawmakers, representatives of the stateís five tribes, a gubernatorial representative and the chair of MITSC.
LD 1263, which is the subject of a work session slated for this afternoon before the Legislatureís Judiciary Committee, would extend the groupís term until January 2008 at a cost of $15,000.
MITSC members have suggested four areas of focus. The first is the venue for resolving disputes. Although MITSC was created by the settlement act as a forum for this, most disputes involving the tribes have been taken to court.
The second is the definition of "internal tribal matters." The tribes see a shrinking of their internal affairs as courts rule that many functions are not internal and can be subject to review, and sometime, regulation, by the state and local governments.
A third area of disagreement is the meaning of language in the implementing act that says the tribes have the power of "municipalities." Tribal officials say this means they have access to the same funding opportunities as municipalities, but state officials view it as meaning that tribal government is akin to municipal government.
A fourth area is the role of the Maliseet and Micmac tribes, which were not party to the 1980 agreement.
These issues are complex and some of the disagreements are large. However, working together to solve problems and improve relations between the stateís Indian tribes and state government is a better approach than going to court.
Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission (MITSC)
13 Commissary Point Road, Trescott Township, ME 04652
Paul Thibeault, Managing Director: 207-271-7762