Since 1980 there has been a strained relationship between the tribes and Chief Executive Office. During this period, no matter who held the position of Governor and their political affiliation, their approach to the tribes in Maine and the Settlement Act has been the same. They want to ensure the tribes in Maine are treated less than the other 570 federally recognized tribes in 49 other states.
The Settlement Act of 1980 was never intended to remain unaltered. However, each Governor has opted not to change the Settlement Act in any meaningful way. When — not if — the Settlement Act is altered in a meaningful way, that will be a truly historic achievement.
Governor Janet Mills
We were hopeful when Janet Mills became Governor that she would act differently than when she was suing the tribes as Attorney General. She promised Wabanaki Chiefs she would respond differently as Governor than she did as Attorney General. Indeed, when she first became Governor, there were signs of her treating her role as Governor differently than Attorney General.
She signed into law legislation that replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. She called for and signed into law a ban on the use of Native American mascots in Maine schools. The ban was first in the nation. She granted a full posthumous pardon, believed to be the first in Maine history, to Don Gellers, a former attorney and advocate for the Passamaquoddy Tribe. Gellers, the Passamaquoddy tribe’s first legal champion, was the victim of a 1968 state-sponsored conspiracy organized by the Attorney General’s Office. The conspiracy ended his efforts to expose police brutality, civil rights violations and the looting of the tribe’s trust fund by state officials.
These were all first steps in mending the relationship between Maine’s Executive Branch and the tribes.
We were hopeful Gov. Mills would work with the tribes to modernize the Settlement Act. Unfortunately, the Governor was unwilling to start the process of placing the tribes in Maine on the same or similar footing as the other 570 federally recognized tribes in 49 other states.
On her website, Gov. Mills touts LD 585 as historic. From our perspective, both sides must agree that legislation is historic for it to be so. The Wabanaki Alliance does not see LD 585 as historic.
If the Governor would have placed these provisions in the Settlement Act, then LD 585 would have been truly historic. Why? Because this would mean that the State and tribal nations would have begun the formation of a government-to-government relationship on equal footing. All the provisions of LD 585 can easily be wiped away by a future Governor and legislature.
In addition, her opposition to federal legislation HR 6707 Advancing Equality for Wabanaki Nations Act is another display of her unwillingness to have a government-to-government relationship with the tribes. Instead, she prefers to ensure her administration has the authority over the tribes in Maine, despite the legislature having an opposite position.
In closing, Governor Mills has made some small steps forward on the Executive Branch’s relationship with the tribes. Unfortunately, she is unwilling to respect tribal sovereignty in Maine and trust the tribes to self-govern. She continually focuses on ensuring the Executive Branch maintains the upper hand in the power dynamic with the Wabanaki Tribes. Considering the history of the state and their abuses of the tribes, we prefer to be treated like the other 570 federally recognized tribes and abide by federal Indian law.
Our hope is that Gov. Mills will move to a place where she is willing to have a government-to-government relationship and meaningfully alter the Settlement Act.
For these reasons, we give Janet Mills’ first term as Governor an INCOMPLETE.