Like most other white Americans, I learned the story of “the first Thanksgiving” when I was very young: first from my family celebrating it, and then every year in elementary school. The widely popularized story of the first Thanksgiving is a true story the way Disney’s “Pocahontas” is a true story – that is to say, there are a few true names and facts, but mostly it’s feel-good fantasy. Now, “Pocahontas” is an entertaining and artistically gorgeous movie (it even won two Academy Awards), and Thanksgiving can be a wonderful holiday. Gratitude can be an important part of tradition. But neither “Pocahontas” nor Thanksgiving is particularly historically accurate.

It’s incredibly embarrassing to admit, but I’m not sure when I realized there were still Native American nations in Maine, but it definitely wasn’t elementary school. There are four: the Aroostook Band of Micmac, the Houlton Band of Maliseet, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Nation. I didn’t think about the Wabanaki much because I didn’t need to. I’ve had the 16 counties of Maine song memorized for over 20 years, and as I was writing this I had to Google the number of tribes in Maine because I thought there were five, not four. (The Passamaquoddy Tribe has two reservations.) I’d like to hope that school curricula have improved over the past 20 years, but I have my doubts. What white Mainers teach their children reflects their priorities. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain? Important. The Indigenous peoples of the Dawnland, who are still here? Not important.

I did know that federally recognized Native American nations have certain inherent rights. What I did not know, until very recently, was that because of a pair of laws passed in 1979-1980, the tribes in Maine are not treated the same as tribes in the other 49 states of America. A lot of legal jargon is involved, and the history is, of course, long and complex, but essentially, because of the language in the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (a federal law) and the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act (the state counterpart to the federal law), the state of Maine treats the tribes like municipalities, rather than the independent nations that they are. This situation not only tramples on tribal rights to self-governance but also has prevented Maine’s tribes from benefiting from over 150 federal laws passed since 1980. Maine’s motto is (rather famously, I’d like to think) “Dirigo,” or “I lead.” But this is an area in which Maine not only fails to lead, but also comes in dead last place.

The good news is, a legislative fix has been proposed. A bipartisan (magic word!) task force, consisting of tribal leaders, state legislators and state officials, studied the issues and came up with several recommendations. A proposed law, An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act, aka L.D. 1626, is in front of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. When the legislative session picks up in January, L.D. 1626 will be back on the table. It probably won’t be at the forefront of anyone’s mind, but it should be. Democrats can support it because it will help to uplift a long-disadvantaged minority community; Republicans can support it because it helps reduce governmental interference in the lives of Mainers. (Independents can support it because it will help save money by keeping the state of Maine from going to court to fight the tribes so much.)

By the way, social media may be known as a cesspool, and that reputation is often well-deserved, but I learned about L.D. 1626 on Twitter, when someone retweeted a post from the Wabanaki Alliance that entered my feed. If you are interested in learning more about not only L.D. 1626 but also about Maine’s Indigenous peoples in general, the Wabanaki Alliance is on all major social media platforms, and they have an extremely helpful website as well.

I descend from colonizers on both sides of my family. My maternal ancestors were Scottish settlers in upstate New York (Haudenosaunee land). I don’t have any records of their committing massacres or atrocities, but they were part of a violent system of land theft and genocide. On my father’s side, my great-great-grandfather Simplicio Jugo Vidal was a colonial governor in the province of Capiz in the Philippines, appointed by the Americans around the turn of the 20th century. My ancestors incurred a lot of moral debt. I can’t be proud of who they were and what they accomplished without noting that.

I don’t bear responsibility for my ancestors’ actions, but I certainly bear responsibility for my own. So I will be contacting my state representative and senator to ask them to support L.D. 1626. I hope you will consider asking your legislators to support L.D. 1626 as well. It will make a big difference in the lives of our fellow Mainers, whose land we are all blessed to live on.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial

 


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