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Wabanaki Nations Seek Tribal Sovereignty from Maine

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Monday, March 20, 2023   

Leaders of the Wabanaki Nations are asking Maine lawmakers to recognize tribal sovereignty and help ensure a better economic future for their youth.

Research shows the five Wabanaki tribes could be an economic engine for large parts of rural Maine, but restrictions set in the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 ensure the tribes are governed under state law.

The tribes are also not guaranteed access to federal programs like the other 574 federally recognized tribes in the U.S.

Richard Silliboy, vice-chief of the Mi'kmaq Tribe, said self-governance would bring jobs and growth to one of the nation's poorest areas.

"This wouldn't just benefit the Native Americans," Silliboy contended. "This would benefit the surrounding communities. This would benefit the state of Maine as a whole."

Silliboy pointed out Wabanaki tribes would benefit from available federal dollars, helping them to create local farming and mill jobs, or extend hours at a fishery that once fed diners in Portland. A growing bipartisan effort is backing legislation to avoid a veto by Gov. Janet Mills, who has long opposed tribal sovereignty over concerns for land use and potential litigation.

Research shows the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act is perpetuating "poverty and dependence" among the Wabanaki, and missed economic growth for all of Maine.

Silliboy added the Wabanaki nations, like communities everywhere, face challenges with drug use. He noted self-governance would help ensure medical treatment for those in need and a job to help their recovery.

"We'd like to employ everybody instead of having them go to the soup kitchen or the food bank," Silliboy stressed. "That's where it is today."

It was a historic Statehouse gathering of the five Wabanaki Nations' chiefs last week, and the first "State of the Tribes" address in two decades, with speeches focused on self-determination and economic collaboration with the state. Mills did not attend.


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