The Wabanaki Alliance released the following statement in response to Sen. Angus King’s decision to block a bill that would have boosted economic development for rural Maine and Wabanaki Nations:

Today leaders of the House and Senate announced they had reached a deal on a Fiscal Year 2023 omnibus appropriations bill. Disappointingly, this budget deal omits crucial language previously included in House-passed spending legislation in July that would ensure that the Wabanaki Nations are no longer unfairly excluded from beneficial acts passed by Congress. That language mirrored the Advancing Equality for Wabanaki Nations Act (H.R. 6707), legislation that was drafted and supported by Reps. Jared Golden (D-ME) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and would have helped begin to right decades of injustice and provide the opportunity for millions of dollars in economic activity in rural Maine.

According to staff in the U.S. Senate, the reason for this omission was Sen. Angus King’s (I-ME) active opposition to the legislative language. Wabanaki leaders strongly question why Sen. King continues to block Wabanaki economic development and turn his back on rural Maine.

“Today, the U.S. Congress released a compromise bill for Fiscal Year 2023 omnibus appropriations. Unfortunately, this omnibus bill fails to include the Advancing Equality for Wabanaki Nations Act, even though the House of Representatives had included the Wabanaki legislation in an earlier version of its appropriations bill. The main reason for the legislation’s exclusion is due to strong opposition from Senator Angus King. This is unfortunate because tribal leaders had directly conferred with Senator King as the legislation was being drafted and purposefully drafted the bill narrowly to address Senator King’s concerns. It’s hard not to suspect that the senator’s opposition to the legislation is political in nature and not substantive. The Wabanaki bill would have been a meaningful step towards modernizing an archaic settlement act, and it would have opened doors for much-needed economic opportunities for our tribal communities and rural Maine. It was supported by the Maine people, the Maine Legislature, and several cities and towns. We want to thank Representatives Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree for making such good progress on a bill that would have helped the Wabanaki people and rural Maine communities, and look forward to continuing to work with them,” stated Chief Kirk Francis, Penobscot Nation.

Chief William Nicholas, Sr. of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkmikuk said, “I am extremely disappointed that The Advancing Equality for Wabanaki Nations Act was not included in the final language for the FY 2023 omnibus appropriations package. There is no legitimate policy justification for the Wabanaki Nations to be treated differently from all other 570 federally recognized Tribal Nations yet that is what this outcome will perpetuate. The time has come for the Wabanaki to have equal access to federal laws intended to promote stronger and safer tribal communities. Though it may not happen this year, we will continue to press Congress to amend the civil and human rights travesty that is the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act. The change we seek may not happen today but we will carry this fight forward for the benefit of our future generations.”

Sen. King persists in maintaining the restrictions blocking the Wabanaki from accessing beneficial acts available to all other federally recognized tribes despite more than 2,000 Mainers writing in support of the legislation earlier this year, Orono, Bangor, and Portland approving letters/resolutions backing the legislation, dozens of organizations expressing support for it, and Maine legislative leaders sending a letter endorsing the legislation.

“The Wabanaki Nations have never been closer to amending the poorly-designed and intentionally one-sided Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act and our inability to be included in this year-end legislation really stings. The fact that we have come this far and generated this much support from Mainers should serve as a stark reminder to those that oppose Wabanaki equality. We will not stop. We will keep fighting for a brighter future because all of Maine succeeds when the Wabanaki succeeds. We applaud our friends Congressman Golden and Congresswoman Pingree for championing our effort thus far and look forward to building on our work in future Congresses,” observed Chief Rena Newell of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik.

A recent report released by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development found that eliminating the restrictive language of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (MICSA) would result in critical economic development for the Wabanaki and rural Maine. According to the report, Wabanaki Nations “could be expected to support hundreds of millions of dollars of gross state product and thousands of spillover jobs, with the preponderance of these jobs being held by non-Indian workers. This economic activity would also support tens of millions of dollars of government revenue at tribal, state and local, and federal levels.”

“Perhaps no better economic development policy costing so little money could be implemented now in the State of Maine than removing the restrictive language of MICSA. Yet Sen. King refuses to support it,” declared Chief Clarissa Sabattis, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians.

While the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Passamaquoddy Tribe, and Penobscot Nation were parties to the MICSA agreement, the Mi’kmaq Nation was excluded from the process and have a separate settlement act approved in 1991.  

“The Mi’kmaq Nation was unfairly left out of the process that led to enactment of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act and, today, the inequity, which has flowed from that exclusion for the past 40 plus years will continue. Our lack of access to laws enacted by Congress to promote tribal self-governance and self-determination has and will continue to drag down and obstruct positive growth in our Wabanaki communities. Special interest groups and those rooted in the dark history of the Settlement Act will continue to fight for the ‘status quo’ but they ignore the obvious reality that the Settlement Act prevents progress in tribal and non-tribal communities and must be changed,” stated Chief Edward Peter-Paul, Mi’kmaq Nation.