Angela Durgin, center, who is Miꞌkmaq from Elsipogtog First Nation in Canada, listens to a speaker at a rally on Indigenous Peoples Day in support of Question 6, a statewide referendum on Wabanaki self-determination, held by the Wabanaki Alliance outside the State House in Augusta on Monday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

AUGUSTA — More than 250 people rallied at the State House on Monday to support passage of Question 6 on the fall ballot, which would restore the state’s original treaty obligations to Indigenous tribes to printed copies of the Maine Constitution.

The Wabanaki Alliance, a coalition of 180 community groups that organized the rally, also urged advocates to maintain momentum toward passage of legislation to expand the sovereignty rights of tribes in Maine after recent efforts have been blocked by the governor’s veto pen.

“We are a huge movement in the state right right now – our homeland,” Wabanaki Alliance President Maulian Bryant told the crowd outside the Capitol complex.

Monday’s rally took place on Maine’s fifth Indigenous Peoples Day and had an air of celebration and optimism. Just Honey, a duo composed of George Loring of the Penobscot Nation and bandmate Karen Childs, seemed to sum up the mood in their opening song.

“We will stand in hope and light,” Loring sang, while strumming his guitar. “I am on your side.”

Supporters of the Wabanaki Alliance gather on the steps of the State House in Augusta Monday during a rally on Indigenous Peoples Day in support of Question 6, which would restore to printed copies of the Maine Constitution the state’s original treaty obligations to native American tribes. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Question 6 would restore the publication of the state’s original treaty obligations to native American tribes when Maine separated from Massachusetts as part of printed copies of the state Constitution. That section, along with others relating to the first legislature and special terms of office, were removed from the printed constitution in 1875, but they remained in effect.


Advocates say printing the original treaty language is important for transparency and truth-telling, while opponents, including the Gov. Janet Mills, argued that it would only lead to confusion, since the state’s relationship is defined by a legal settlement between the state and the tribes in 1980.

Jerry Reid, the governor’s chief legal counsel, said in written testimony this year that Mills opposed legislation to hold the referendum because it would “perpetuate this baseless theory” that it was removed to “conceal or evade Maine’s legal obligations under the treaties.”

“It appears to be a misguided attempt to right a historical wrong that never occurred,” Reid said.

Mills has declined to discuss her position on the proposal. A spokesperson declined to make her available for an interview Monday to elaborate on her concerns and did not respond to questions about whether she was in the Blaine House at the time of the rally, which included a march around the state house as participants chanted  “Yes on 6!”



Bryant said concerns about the proposal are overblown and that the tribes have no hidden agenda. But she did suggest that passing Question 6 would be a symbolic victory that could help the tribes make their case for sovereignty when lawmakers return to session in January.

“This is so significant for Wabanaki Nations, because you don’t enter into treaties with people you don’t see as sovereign,” Bryant said. “So this really underscores so much of what we’re trying to do and talk about. We never ceded our sovereignty because our leaders – under duress – agreed to the terms of the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act.”

Senate President Troy Jackson said it was  “(un)conscionable” that the constitutional language regarding tribes was removed without a clear reason and it would be “incredible” for people to oppose putting it back in.  

People march down to the steps of the State House at a rally on Indigenous Peoples Day in support of Question 6 on Monday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“Do what’s right. Put the tribal language back in. And then let’s go on and fight for solidarity – fight for sovereignty – for the tribes,” said Jackson, who was wearing a Cross Rock Logging, Inc. hat. “I’m really really hopeful that the wheels of government will speed up and we will get this done, because it’s what you all deserve.”

When lawmakers return to Augusta, they will consider at least one tribal bill: L.D. 2007, “An Act to Advance Self-Determination for Wabanaki Nations,” sponsored by House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland.

That bill has a bipartisan list of co-sponsors that includes 18 of the 35 members of the Senate and 87 of the 151 members of the House.  Details of the proposal have not been released, but it is expected to be another comprehensive push for sovereignty, rather than an incremental proposal, which is Mills’ preferred approach.


More than 250 people rallied at the State House on Monday to support passage of Question 6 on the Nov. 7 ballot. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

Mills has expressed support for incremental change, citing the legal complexity of the tribe’s relationship with the state and municipalities, and issued a statement Monday highlighting her efforts to support tribal communities. But attendees at the rally Monday said they want bold action and were unmoved by the fact that Mills has signed more pro-tribal bills than any other governor in the last four decades, including a bill to give tribes exclusive rights to online sports betting and tax relief.


“Sports betting is one thing, but it’s this whole matter of self-determination,” said Margo Lukens, a former professor who taught indigenous literature at the University of Maine, Orono. “The opportunity to develop economically is really what the argument is about. And it’s not about handouts. It’s about tribes being able to put forward projects that could really float a lot of boats.”

Supporters listen to speakers a rally on Indigenous Peoples’ Day in support of Question 6, Wabanaki self-determination, held by the The Wabanaki Alliance Monday in Augusta. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Patty Sprague, of Portland, said Mills’ legal concerns about sovereignty are a deflection from the real issue. She described Mills as “brave and compassionate,” calling on her to put tribal sovereignty above other interests.

“The rights of the people who have taken care of this land matter,” Sprague said. “Protection of more recent corporate or individual concerns have to be balanced with what’s the right thing to do. So please, be brave and see what the future requires and give the right of sovereignty over the homeland to the Wabanaki folk.”

Richard Silliboy, a vice chief of the Aroostook Band of the Mi’kmaq, sat next to the stage and in the shade of a maple tree, clutching a walking stick adorned with an eagle claw and feather and carvings representing his tribe and his clan, the Bear. The 77-year-old said he was heartened to see continued, strong public support for both Question 6 and tribal sovereignty more broadly.

“I think it’s a great thing – it’s something that’s needed,” Silliboy said. “We’re getting good support form both parties. We have one individual who does not want to support Native American issues.”

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