Bangor: Tribes, state to amend acts
Written by Aimee Dolloff
from Bangor Daily News
BANGOR, Maine — The state’s Wabanaki American Indian tribes remained focused Wednesday on four main issues that they hope to address while studying differences in the interpretation and understanding of the Settlement Acts between the tribes and the state.
The Tribal-State Work Group, created in 2006 by Gov. John Baldacci, met Wednesday at the University of Maine System Office to continue discussions about potential changes to the act.
"All we are asking is respect for our culture and an opportunity to live that culture," Butch Phillips, Penobscot Nation tribal elder and work group member, said at Wednesday’s meeting. "Self governance is the most important right of the tribe."
As originally charged by Baldacci, the work group is in the process of developing recommendations for how the Legislature might reconcile the issues in a manner that benefits both the tribes and the state.
The recurrent themes discussed Wednesday included the concept of sovereignty; the definition of internal tribal matters; how disputes between the state and tribes should be settled; and what is meant by language stating that tribes are similar to municipalities.
The Maine Settlement Acts date back to 1979 and include the Maine Implementing Act, which implemented in part a land settlement agreement among the state of Maine and the Penobscot Indian Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. They were ratified by Congress in 1980. Subsequently, the Maine Legislature enacted, and Congress ratified, the Micmac Settlement Act regarding the Aroostook Band of Micmacs.
"Unfortunately, it has not worked out as we intended," Phillips said.
Over the last 27 years, although the poverty level among Maine’s American Indians has improved, other aspects of their lives haven’t.
As presented Wednesday, issues such as health care, the ability to freely practice their cultures and traditions, social equality, and access to higher education are just a few of the issues that have plagued Maine’s tribes since the acts were implemented.
"The Settlement Act doesn’t work because it tries to make us something we are not," Phillips said. "We are first, last and always Indian tribes, not creatures of the state."
The group is scheduled to meet again at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 2, in Augusta to hear from Tim Woodcock and John Patterson. Both men were involved in creating the act.
The tribes intend to a have a draft of what they would like to see changed ready for the November meeting. The group is under a Dec. 5 deadline to submit its report to the state. The 123rd Legislature then will consider the findings during the second session.
Members of the work group include six state representatives, two state senators, eight representatives from the Wabanaki tribes, a representative from Baldacci’s office, and another from the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission.
"If you let the tribe have the means to go forward, we can do amazing things," Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Chief Rick Phillips-Doyle said, noting that the Settlement Act didn’t change the way the tribes view themselves.
"The people still believe in their tribal governments," he said.
Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission (MITSC)
13 Commissary Point Road, Trescott Township, ME 04652
Paul Thibeault, Managing Director: 207-271-7762