Some Native American lands in Maine. Long ago it was all their land. But they did not posses it as Westerners do. It was their land to share, for it was nature's land for all. Photo by Ramona du Houx
by Ramona du Houx
Governor Paul LePage has rescinded his three year-old executive order that recognized the “special relationship” between the State of Maine and Indian tribes. The order created a consultation policy for tribal input before laws, rules and policies affecting them are passed. This executive order had no press conference, in fact the press learned of the action in an email notice on a Saterday morning- a typical down time for news agencies.
But what he agreed to then — he now doesn't now. The new executive order was issued on April 16, 2015, “An Order Respecting Joint Sovereignty and Interdependence." It rescinds his August 2011 executive order, “Recognizing the Special Relationship Between the State of Maine and the Sovereign Native American Tribes Located Within the State of Maine.”
The new executive order begins recognizing the sovereignty of the State of Maine and the four Wabanaki Nations—the Passamaquoddy, the Penobscot, the Maliseet and Micmac—and “the relationship between the State of Maine and the individual tribes a relationship of equals, each with its own set of responsibilities.”
Then the document then takes a 180-degree turn, and asserts the state’s dominance over the tribes – in effect, denying the sovereignty that is affirmed in the first statements. It even takes a bigger step – rejecting the sovereignty over tribal lands held in trust by the federal government.
“I don’t understand the value of the governor of the state taking the time to revoke such an order,” said Kirk Francis, chief of the Penobscot Nation, whose reservation is north of Old Town. “It does nothing but fuel an already volatile relationship.
“It seems like what they are saying at the end of the day is that we will respect your sovereignty as long as you do what we tell you. That’s not how sovereign relationships work.”
One needs to question if LePage can claim rights over federal land guaranteed to Native Americans. This document surely needs to be reviewed the Maine Attorney General.
It reads: “Whereas, all tribe members, Indian nations, and tribes or bands in the State of Maine and any lands or natural resources owned by them or held in trust for them are subject to the laws of the state and to the civil and criminal jurisdiction of the courts of the State to the same extent as any other persons or lands or natural resources therein.”
“It’s really a retaliation for the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) letter to Maine DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) concerning Maine’s water quality standards and the fact that they impact Passamaquoddy sustenance fishing rights, and those rights are a federally protected right,” said Passamaquoddy Tribal Chief Fred Moore.
This could also be considered a land grab by the State of Maine.
The Governor wants waterways, which run thru tribal lands, for waterpower development. LePage has made it clear he wants more land to be developed. He wants to allow the return of clear cutting. Is this one way he is trying to clear-cut his way thru Native American rights?
The final “whereas” statement blames the tribes for failed attempts at collaboration and communication with the state. Efforts by the governor to promote collaboration and communication were ”unproductive because the State of Maine’s interests were not respected in the ongoing relationship between sovereigns,” reads LePage’s order.
“I’m not sure what we’ve done to make this relationship unproductive except to try and work for some basic indigenous and human rights for Wabanaki people and to have that respected,” Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis.
The executive order ends with a statement affirming the state’s sovereign immunity from being sued because of anything in the document.
In the 1800’s Native American’s were treated like second-class citizens. Often officials made promises with tribal leaders only to deliberately break them. Native American lands were taken away from them; they were forced into camps, and told to forget their traditions. Their children were made to feel ashamed of their heritage and schooled in “Western Ways.”
It’s took Sen. Muskie, from Maine, to really start to turn the atrocities of our federal government around.
LePage’s executive order needs the people of Maine to challenge it.