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Bill to give Maine tribes benefits of federal laws advances

June 15, 2022 GMT

A House committee on Tuesday advanced a bill that would allow Native American tribes in Maine to benefit from future federal laws, despite a state land claims settlement.

Wabanaki tribes in Maine are governed by the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 that stipulates they’re bound by state law. That sets them apart from the other 570 federally recognized tribes.

The federal bill won’t change the state settlement, but would update federal law to give Maine tribes to benefit from federal laws going forward.

Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement that the House Natural Resources Committee vote brings tribes “a big step closer to better economic opportunity and basic fairness.”

William Nicholas, Passamaquoddy chief at Pleasant Point, said the 1980 land claims settlement is a failure, leading to four decades of “litigation, policy failures and transgressions against the tribes.”

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Both chambers of the Maine Legislature advanced a bill to amend the land claims settlement to restore rights that tribes forfeited, but it stalled under a threat of veto from Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

The federal proposal would ensure Maine’s tribes can benefit from federal laws going forward, Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis said. “It is a forward thinking bill that has bipartisan support in Maine,” he said.