HOULTON — The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians are supporting a bill in the Maine Legislature that would allow them to negotiate with the federal government to open a casino in Aroostook County.

The Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs will hold a public hearing on March 17 for the bill, which seeks to allow Maine’s four federally recognized tribes to open casinos as other federally recognized tribes are able to do, the Bangor Daily News reported.

The Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 means that the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, among other federal laws, does not apply to the tribes in the state, said Maliseet Chief Clarissa Sabattis during a phone interview Thursday.

Under the law, the tribes agreed to be subject to Maine’s laws and jurisdiction, except for “internal tribal matters” and hunting and certain fishing rights on tribal land. The U.S. Congress has to specifically state whether a federal law applies to Maine tribes.

The Southern Aroostook Development, a nonprofit, also supports the bill, Executive Director Jon McLaughlin said.

“I’m not pro- or anti-casino. I don’t care one way or the other,” he said. “I just think the Maliseets and the other tribes in Maine should be given the same treatment as the rest of the Native Americans in this country.”

Previous efforts to authorize a casino in Houlton, including a 2017 state Senate bill and a 2015 referendum, have not succeeded, the newspaper reported.


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