Original press release produced by the Office of the Speaker of the House. 

AUGUSTA –Maine Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross traveled to Aroostook, Penobscot and Washington counties this week to meet with Chiefs Rena Newell, William Nicholas, Edward Peter-Paul, Kirk Francis, and other members of leadership at tribal offices. This tour is a continuation of her ongoing legislative work to improve Maine’s relationship with its Tribal neighbors.

These in-person visits were a priority for Speaker Talbot Ross to better understand the long history of these tribal communities that predate contact by European colonists, but also to understand the unique challenges each face today to best serve their tribal citizens and the regional neighbors.

“Too often, we ask representatives from tribal governments to drive hours away to Augusta for a short meeting. It’s time that we meet them where they are,” said Maine Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross. “I am so humbled to be invited and welcomed by the chiefs to their tribal land to hear directly from them. Whatever I can do, I will, to build off of the work of recent legislative leadership to improve the relationship with tribal government.”

Speaker Talbot Ross is planning for a joint session of the Maine State Legislature for a State of Tribes address to happen in the coming months. Such an address has not occurred since 2004 with only participation of the Chief of the Penobscot Nation, and the first in 2002 with the chiefs of the Penobscot Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point and the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk. The goal of the address is to give tribal chiefs the opportunity to speak directly to the Senators and Representatives of Maine.

Earlier this month, Harvard University’s Kennedy School released a report citing that the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act is the origin of extreme social and economic challenges that are facing the Houlton Band of Maliseets, the Mi’kmaq Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk and the Penobscot Nation. Unlike the other 570 tribes located in the United States, Maine does not recognize the inherent sovereignty of tribal populations.

According to the study, since the 1980 Act, Maine’s tribes have experienced anemic economic growth compared to the other tribes. The average per capita income of a tribal citizen in Maine is estimated around $15,000, compared to regional non-native neighbors at $35,000. The Harvard study cites the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act as the key piece of legislation that is artificially halting potential for the tribal communities and their regional neighbors in Aroostook, Penobscot, and Washington Counties.

Speaker Talbot Ross will continue to travel to the tribal reservations, soon holding a meeting with Chief Clarissa Sabattis from the Houlton Band of Maliseets. She has invited Democratic and Republican leadership to join in order to hear directly from all of the chiefs about how the State of Maine can do better to improve their relationship with tribal neighbors.

Chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point – Rena Newell, “I am appreciative of my good friend, Speaker Talbot Ross, to come and sit with Vice Chief Bassett and myself in Sipayik. I anticipate working more together as the 131st Maine Legislature convenes.”

Chief of the Penobscot Nation – Kirk Francis, “Maine’s relationship with its tribal neighbors has been unnecessarily tenuous. Our community has been living on this land for time immemorial. We are not going anywhere. We would like to see everyone succeed and for there to be prosperity for all of our neighbors. With Speaker Talbot Ross in that leadership position, I feel better about the future of our relationship with the State.”

Chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk – William Nicholas, “Speaker Talbot Ross comes from a place of common understanding as the Passamaquoddy Tribe. We are looking forward to working with her and the next legislature to build a better understanding of each tribe’s differences and how we can improve the well-being of not only tribal citizens but also our Maine neighbors.”

Chief of the Aroostook Band of Mi’kmaqs – Edward Peter Paul, “No child should witness what my generation witnessed when we were children – the poverty and loss of hope. We don’t want more than our neighbors. We want equality. Of the tribal communities in Maine, ours is usually left out. Speaker Talbot Ross coming to our tribal office to come and meet with Vice Chief Silliboy and myself means a lot as a symbol of coming to where we are instead of us always coming to the State when we need something.”

Tribal Ambassador of the Penobscot Nation – Maulian Dana, “Over the past five years working to progress the inherent rights of tribal citizens, I have found one consistent ally in Speaker Talbot Ross. I look forward to working with her more closely in her elevated leadership position to continue to fight for solutions for the same rights as every other tribe located in the United States.”

(L-R) Chief Rena Newell, Passamaquoddy at Sipayik; Brian Colleran, Senior Policy Adviser for Speaker Talbot Ross; Vice Chief Amkuwiposohehes “Pos” Bassett, Passamaquoddy at Sipayik; Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross; Dawud Ummah; and Rep. Aaron Dana (Passamaquoddy Nation).

(L-R) Chief Kirk Francis, Penobscot Nation; Maulian Dana, Penobscot Nation Ambassador and President, Wabanaki Alliance; Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross; and the Honorable Donna Loring. 

(L-R) Vice Chief Richard Silliboy, Mi’kmaq Nation; Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross; Chief Edward Peter-Paul, Mi’kmaq Nation; Brian Colleran, senior policy adviser to Speaker Talbot Ross.