AUGUSTA, ME – The Maine Legislature’s Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on LD 2004, An Act to Restore Access to Federal Laws Beneficial to the Wabanaki Nations, today. LD 2004 will enable the Wabanaki Nations in Maine to have the same access to most federally beneficial Indian laws that the other 570 federally recognized tribes across the country are able to access. The four federally recognized tribes in Maine have been excluded from benefitting from federal laws because of the Maine Indian Claims Act of 1980. A report in 2019 by Suffolk University outlines the 151 laws the tribes in Maine do not have access to.

LD 2004 is sponsored by House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross and has bipartisan co-sponsorship: Republican State Representative John Andrews who sits on the Judiciary Committee; Democratic State Senator Donna Bailey former Chair of Judiciary Committee; Republican State Senator Rick Bennett, Republican State Senator Eric Brakey who sits on the Judiciary Committee; Democratic Senate Chair of Judiciary Committee Anne Carney; Representative of the Passamaquoddy Tribe Aaron Dana who sits on Judiciary Committee; Republican House Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham; Senate President Troy Jackson and Democratic State Representative and House Chair of Judiciary Committee Matt Moonen.

LD 2004 stems from the consensus recommendations from the 2019 Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act. LD 2004 is consensus recommendation #20 of 22 consensus recommendations from the Task Force. LD 2004 only encompasses one of the 22 recommendations.

Chief Kirk Francis of Penobscot Nation said, “The last forty-two years have shown that the settlement act needs modernizing. We are looking to this Legislature to begin modernizing the relationship between the Wabanaki Nations and State. It is time for the State to stop treating the Wabanaki Nations as enemies and start treating us as the partners and neighbors we are.”

Chief Rena Newell of Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik said, “The recent report by Harvard University has painfully made it clear that the tribes in Maine are lagging compared to other tribes across the country. The settlement act is holding back tribes in Maine compared to other federal tribes, according to a recent study by the Harvard Kennedy School. The study found that from 1989 to 2020, the average per capita gross domestic product growth for Maine tribes was 9%, which was far below the 61% growth for tribes in the other states. We need the ability to govern our people and our lands as other federally recognized tribes can so we can prosper.”

Chief Edward Peter Paul of Mi’kmaq Nation said, “The lack of access to federal funds has stunted the economic growth and health of our community. Our inability to have economic prosperity has created poverty, minimized educational outcomes, and manifested poor health for our people. We are just asking for an opportunity to self-determine the future and vibrancy of our community and future generations.”

Vice Chief Joseph Socobasin of Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk said, “Because we do not have access to federal beneficial laws like other tribes across the country, we have been hamstrung. For example, when a natural disaster hits our lands, we cannot simply contact FEMA like other tribes because we do not have access to the Stafford Act. Earlier this year, when a major freeze hit the state, our health care center suffered significant damage. We had to close temporarily to allow for extensive repairs. The State of Maine had not declared a State of Emergency on our behalf so we began to immediately invest significant tribal resources into getting our health center back into operation as quickly as possible. This is just one example of how not having access to federal beneficial laws has had dire consequences.”

Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Dana and President, Wabanaki Alliance, “We are always open for productive dialogue, but the dialogue needs to be focused on meaningful change. Opponents to LD 2004 should identify the specific Federal Indian laws they don’t want to apply in Maine, and why. By supporting LD 2004, the legislature will be stopping the continued stagnation of economic and public safety progress for the Wabanaki Nations and other rural communities in Maine.”