AUGUSTA — Maine’s speaker of the House presented a sweeping bill Monday to restore the sovereignty of Maine’s Indigenous tribes, but said she and other advocates will focus on more limited reforms that could win the support of tribal leaders and Gov. Janet Mills.

“(This bill) covers many issues and represents a significant change from current law,” House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, told the Judiciary Committee during a public hearing on her bill. “Given this, I do not expect all its provisions to be enacted into law during this short session. However … I believe it is important to present a bill that sets forth all the remaining issues that need to be addressed, even if we only address a couple of issues each session.”

Talbot Ross presented the committee with a 41-page bill, L.D. 2007, which would restore sovereignty for the Wabanaki tribes and implement the recommendations of a 2020 task force report that called for updating the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980. The committee will hold a work session in the coming weeks before making a recommendation to the full Legislature.

The proposal comes on the heels of another tribal sovereignty bill that was vetoed by the governor last year. Another comprehensive sovereignty bill was passed by the Legislature in 2022 but died on the appropriations table when lawmakers withheld funding, avoiding a certain veto by Mills.

Supporters of tribal sovereignty urge legislators to override Gov. Janet Mills’ veto of a bill that would have expanded tribal rights in July 2023. The veto was upheld. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Some tribal leaders spoke in support of Talbot Ross’ more comprehensive bill Monday, while others encouraged the committee to focus on narrower reforms to avoid another veto by the governor.

“The hope is there may be issues within L.D. 2007 or otherwise that could be the foundation of a consensus approach to advancing tribal-state relations in 2024,” said Corey Hinton, legal counsel for the Passamaquoddy Tribe.


“The Passamaquoddy Tribe hopes that kind of consensus-approach can maybe replace L.D. 2007’s current text so that the bill is not ultimately vetoed. Our goal is to see some of the tribe’s objectives enacted into law this short session, but we recognize that won’t come with L.D. 2007 as it currently stands.”

Jerry Reid, chief legal counsel for Mills, submitted written testimony in opposition to Talbot Ross’ bill.

Reid said the text of the bill was printed and made available to the public just two business days before Monday’s public hearing, providing little time for the full scope of proposed changes to be studied. And, he argued, it presents significant changes to state law, limits the authority cities and towns have to control tribal jurisdictions within their borders, and would “create tremendous legal confusion by relying on vague terms and poorly understood concepts,” including rights and responsibilities spelled out in 18th and 19th century treaties.

A spokesperson for the governor said, however, that she is open to attempts to amend or narrow L.D. 2007 as some tribal leaders suggested.

“The governor is committed to building on the progress her administration and the tribes have made together over the past five years, and she welcomes their change in approach to amend the bill to find areas of common ground, such as criminal jurisdiction,” said spokesperson Scott Ogden.

“The governor’s office agrees that we can make important progress on that front, and we look forward to resuming our collaborative work with the tribes, the speaker, and others to move it forward. By developing legislation that solves specific problems with clear language that is well-understood by all affected parties, as we have done in the past, we can make progress.”


Tribes in other states have more rights to self government than tribes in Maine, which remain subject to state jurisdiction because of the unique settlement law reached in 1980.

Talbot Ross said she has been meeting over the last several months with tribal leaders, legal counsel for the governor and the Maine attorney general’s office to identify areas that could be the focus of negotiations this session. One area where they have made progress is on the issue of restoring jurisdiction over criminal matters, she said. Tribes in other states already have such jurisdiction, but Maine’s tribes are still bound by the 1980 law.

“This would allow the Wabanaki courts to exercise criminal jurisdiction over Native Americans who commit certain crimes on Indian land, and acknowledges the recent federal Violence Against Women Act, which restored back to all tribal nations the authority to prosecute non-Indians for certain dating and domestic violence crimes, sex trafficking, child violence and assault on law enforcement officers,” Talbot Ross said.

She said language is still being worked out on changes to criminal jurisdiction but she expects to have it finalized by the committee’s work session.

Talbot Ross said she has also been working with the tribes and state on language that would help the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe obtain trust land that they were guaranteed under the 1980 Settlement Act.

“It is my hope and expectation that language can be agreed to amongst the stakeholders before the committee’s work session that helps these tribes get access to the remaining amount of lands they were promised in the Settlement Act,” Talbot Ross said.

A final priority issue for the session, which ends mid-April, is for Wabanaki Nations to be able to fully access federal laws intended to benefit tribes. “Again, I hope to have agreed upon language for this issue before the committee’s work session,” Talbot Ross said.

Maulian Bryant, Penobscot Nation ambassador, spoke in favor of the bill Monday but said she recognizes it is unrealistic for the entire proposal to be enacted this year.

“But I do think we can get some things accomplished, and I owe it to my parents, my grandparents and my many Penobscot ancestors to make some progress,” Bryant said. “I believe that we can make some progress with L.D. 2007 this session.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.