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Maine Considers Changes to Indian Claims Act

Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis is part of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act. (University of Maine bio)
Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis is part of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act. (University of Maine bio)
December 6, 2019

AUGUSTA, Maine – Maine could soon revise its legal relationship with American Indian nations.

Maine treats tribal nations as municipalities rather than sovereign nations, which is unique among the states. Today, a task force votes on modifying the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act.

Tribes currently follow state law except for "internal tribal matters" – some criminal cases, natural resources and gaming rights, among other legal areas. State Rep. Donna Bailey, D-Saco and House co-chair of the task force, explains the reasoning behind the potential legal changes.

"What the tribes have really asked for us to look at is to try to bring their status in line with general, federal Indian law," says Bailey.

The law was first enacted by Congress in 1980 to settle a legal dispute between the tribal nations and the State of Maine. After Friday's vote, the task force will present its recommendations on December 13.

The act also limits how federal legislation can benefit tribes in Maine. There have been numerous court cases between Maine's Native Americans and the state since the claims act was passed.

Bailey says legal changes could help repair this historic animosity.

"I'm hoping that most of our recommendations will become law, and that this will kind-of restart the relationship between the tribes and the state," says Bailey. “It's been stuck since 1980."

When Governor Janet Mills was the Maine Attorney General in 2017, she won a case against the Penobscot Nation in a federal dispute about whether the state or the tribe could regulate waters in their area. Mills says her administration wants to mend the state's relationship with the tribes.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - ME