U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) walks in the US Capitol during a vote on 7 21, 2021 in Wash., DC. | A Moneymaker, Getty Images
Originally published in the Beacon n December 21, 2022
Tribal leaders in Maine say they are “extremely disappointed” that, due to opposition from Sen. Angus King, the Advancing Equality for Wabanaki Nations Act was not included in the final congressional budget deal announced Tuesday.
The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Jared Golden and co-sponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree, would have adjusted the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980, a jurisdictional arrangement between the tribes and the state that Indigenous leaders have long criticized for leaving the Wabanaki Nations with less authority over natural resources, gaming, taxation, criminal justice and economic development than 570 other federally recognized tribes.
Through the Settlement Act, federal laws that benefit other Indigenous nations around the country only apply to tribes in Maine if they are explicitly included by Congress. HR 6707 would change that going forward to include the Wabanaki in such laws.
“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,” said Chief Rena Newell of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik.
“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,” she added.
Earlier this month, a study published by the Harvard Kennedy School highlighted how the current arrangement with the tribes has significantly stifled their economic development, which has had a ripple effect throughout rural Maine.
“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,” said Chief Clarissa Sabattis of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians.
Following the lead of Maine Gov. Janet Mills, who opposed the federal legislation in addition to a state bill that would have amended the Settlement Act, King said he has “serious concerns about the legislation in its current form and the unintended consequences it poses for the state of Maine,” according to a statement from his office.
King’s Communications Director Matthew Felling said the independent would work with the tribes on specific provisions within the more sweeping legislation. “Moving forward, he is committed to continuing to work with the Tribes on specific issues involving the application of federal tribal laws in Maine, such as the Stafford Act and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act — much like he did with the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act,” he said.
However, Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis said the tribes 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,” Francis added. “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.”
Both Golden and Pingree expressed disappointment in King and Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ refusal to support the bill.
“I’m disappointed that this provision, which we passed in the House on a bipartisan basis, fell out of the omnibus spending bill during negotiations with the Senate,” Golden told the Press Herald on Tuesday. “This issue is not settled and I look forward to working with the tribes to make headway on this important issue.”
Pingree added, “We got it through the House, but the two Maine Senators don’t support it. It was attached when it came over from the House but they opposed its inclusion. This one we just couldn’t get agreement on.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Gov. Janet Mills had vetoed the Maine legislation. Rather, the bill died when it was not funded by the legislature’s Appropriations Committee.
Lauren McCauley is Editor of Maine Beacon. Previously, she was a senior editor at Common Dreams covering national and international politics and progressive news. Lauren also helped produce a number of documentary films, including the award-winning Soundtrack for a Revolution and The Hollywood Complex, as well as one currently in production about civil rights icon James Meredith. Her writing has been featured on Newsweek, BillMoyers.com, TruthDig, Truthout, In These Times,and Extra! the newsletter of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. She currently lives in Kennebunk with her husband, two children, a dog and several chickens. Lauren can be reached at Lauren(at)mainebeacon.com.