A recent op-ed by Gov. Janet Mills’ attorney claimed that the governor was committed to political progress with Wabanaki Nations (“Commentary: Gov. Mills remains committed to progress with tribal nations,” March 26).

This claim is an illusion: The governor’s idea of progress is ensuring that she maintains control over the tribes in Maine. Mills refuses to place the Wabanaki tribes in Maine on the same footing as other federally recognized tribes across the country.

The one time the governor signed a bill that would minutely alter the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act was the last legislative session. Gov. Mills only succumbed to the wishes of the Legislature because Republican, Democratic and independent legislators came together to ensure the Passamaquoddy people would not have to suffer tainted brown drinking water. This is an issue that plagued the reservation for years. Gov. Mills only engaged when legislators from both parties came together to resolve this health hazard. Once the governor saw there were enough legislators to override her veto she “came to the table.”

Now that the governor can see once again that Republican, Democratic and independent legislators are working together to create a compromise on important provisions to the Settlement Act, she wants to inject herself, but only so she can control everything and no progress occurs. This approach has real-life consequences.

Because of the Settlement Act, the Wabanaki tribes’ health, educational and economic outcomes have lagged far behind those of other population groups in Maine and other tribes throughout the country. Life expectancy among Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and Houlton Band of Maliseets is 54 years old, compared to a Mainer’s average of 78 years old. The child poverty rate spans as ‘low’ as 40% in some tribal communities and as high as 76% in others, compared to Maine’s 15% (too high itself). The average income growth since 1989 is 61% for tribal citizens not located in Maine, 25% for Mainers, 17% for U.S. residents, and just 9% for Wabanaki citizens in Maine. The tribes want to determine their own destinies for the health – physical and economic – of their people.

The March 26 op-ed cited the lawyers at the Native American Rights Fund who declared in 1980 the Settlement Act to be “the greatest Indian victory of its kind in the history of the United States.”


If we’re using quotes from 1980 to justify policy today, we should point to the intent of one of the authors of the Settlement Act, Timothy Woodcock, then staffer on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs to Maine Sen. Bill Cohen.

Woodcock wrote in a memo to Sen. Cohen: “The municipality concept was adopted because it was believed to be the best device to ensure that the tribes remained under Maine law and did not take on the substantial attributes of sovereignty which characterize many of the tribes in the West.” This points to the clear intent of the Settlement Act.

Gov. Mills will go to any length to ensure she controls the tribes. An innocuous bill that would print the Maine Constitution in full is before the Legislature. Three parts of the Maine Constitution are currently not printed. One of those provisions points to the state’s treaty obligations to the tribes.

The governor and Attorney General’s Office testified that these provisions would not bring back treaty rights and have no legal standing. The difference in their testimony is the attorney general supported transparency and the full printing of the Maine Constitution, while the governor opposed transparency. The Judiciary Committee agreed with the attorney general and voted in a bipartisan fashion with twelve members in favor and one opposed.

We thank the Republican, Democratic and independent legislators who are working with the tribes in good faith and showing leadership. We wish we could say the same of Gov. Mills.

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