Amid an ongoing push to loosen constraints placed on Maine’s tribal nations as part of a historic land claims settlement deal 42 years ago, legislators held hearings Monday on two smaller bills that would alter the tribes’ access to additional lands in the state.

One bill, L.D. 1907, proposes to create a commission that would develop a process to return or increase access to state-owned lands considered sacred or otherwise significant to individual tribes.

“There’s a desire by tribal members to have more participation with land that is sacred and has importance to them,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep.  Ben Collins, D-Portland, who said the participation could range from arranging increased access to an outright transfer of ownership.

Tribal representatives supported the bill, as did a range of environmental and land conservation groups.

“When we think about the attempted genocide against the Wabanaki people – bounties placed on our bodies and scalps, diseases inflicted that we had no immunity to – another large piece was the theft of land and the taking of land,” Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Dana testified. “When you take away the land base of a people you greatly diminish their nation.

“I think this bill is a not-as-controversial way of getting some of the land base back to the tribal nations,” she added.


The Passamaquoddy Tribe’s attorney, tribal member Michael-Corey Francis Hinton, testified in support of the measure via hands free telephone from the car he was driving. “We still maintain sacred connections to these places where we prayed and where our family members were born, died and were buried,” he said. “These places are still sacred to us even if we can’t go there to pray.”

Gov. Janet Mills opposes the bill, saying it duplicates efforts already underway.

“There is no need to create a new commission to oversee an issue that is appropriately the subject of government-to-government discussions between the Wabanaki tribes and the State of Maine,” gubernatorial legal counsel Gerald Reid testified. “The subject matter of this bill should be discussed and resolved through the collaborative process that L.D. 585 contemplates.”

For the past two years, Maine’s four federally recognized tribes have been seeking passage of a sweeping legislative package that would effectively give them the same jurisdictional powers and access to federal programs that most of the United States’ other 570 recognized tribes enjoy. That bill, L.D. 1626, is opposed by Mills, who is concerned about tribal territories becoming subject only to federal laws, not state and local ones.

Mills instead favors a much narrower package negotiated with the tribes – L.D. 585 – that would grant them certain tax exemptions and allow them to operate certain sports betting facilities. The Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe support the measure, but say it is no substitute for the more sweeping bill.

The judiciary committee Monday also heard testimony on another bill, L.D. 1665, that would change which areas of the state would be eligible for acquisition by the tribes under the terms of the 1980 land claims settlements, although these acquisitions would still be limited to 150,000 acres. The sponsor of that bill, Rep. Christopher Babbidge, D-Kennebunk, said he developed it himself without consulting with the tribes or the governor’s office because of concerns he had about the potential for inappropriate development to occur on trust lands if the tribes succeeded in gaining full sovereignty and are therefore only subject to federal laws.


His bill would expand the areas designated for the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes, but limit them to “designated areas of land acquisition” that roughly correspond to the respective watersheds of the rivers that bear the tribes’ names. But it intentionally excludes lands surrounding Moosehead Lake that are currently eligible for acquisition.

“I am excluding Moosehead Lake, which is not in the Penobscot watershed, from that list,” Babbidge said. “I am trying to prevent unwanted development, and for me that would be an expansion of casinos in Maine.” He said certain sites on Moosehead Lake would be highly desirable for a casino resort development and that while none of the tribes were seeking to build such, he was thinking about future generations.

Ambassador Dana said the tribes oppose the bill.

“It is not the framework we would like to see in terms of changing the (land claims settlement) implementing act,” Dana told lawmakers. “The tribes were not consulted and are not in agreement with this bill.”

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