Maine tribes hope new task force will give them real sovereignty

A birch bark canoe crafted by the Penobscot tribe made from one birch tree's otter bark.

By Ramona du Houx

On Tuesday January 14, 2020 the Maine Indian Claims Task Force (MICTF) will give their findings to the Maine Judiciary Committee about the lack of sovereignty tribal societies have in Maine.

“We are not asking permission to be sovereign; we are guiding the process towards having that sovereignty recognized. It may be tedious at times but I am hopeful it is worth it,” Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana wrote in a recent Facebook post. “It is this principle that will guide the Task Force’s presentation and foreseeably be reflected in the legislature.”

The MICT has been meeting since July 2019 with the purpose of reviewing the 1980 Maine Indian Land Claims Act as well as the 1991 MicMac Settlement Act to recommended reform suggestions to the legislature.

Under the 1980 agreement, the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and Maliseet tribes were given $81.5 million dollars from the US Government in exchange for ending future land claims against the state. The tribes used most of the settlement to reclaim over 300,000 acres of land that had been stolen by settlers. They argue that the agreement brokered with Sen. Muskie during the Carter administration has stifled native communities economically and spurred new conflicts.

Progress over the years has been made because of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, when the Great Pond Task Force changed policies on water-related issues including aquatic territory, drinking water concerns, and watercraft regulations in 1998, with the King administration.

In 2008 under the Baldacci administration, the Tribal State Work Group was able to expand the membership of the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission under law in a bid for greater sovereignty.

But there are many who argue not enough has changed. “I think that the Land Claims Settlement is a stagnant document that doesn’t move in real time with the progress and the uptick in activity of tribal documents and what we can do,” said Penobscot Chief Kirk Frances last summer when talks began.

Since 1980, 43 acts have been passed to clarify and expand the Settlement Act under the guidance of multiple task forces.

Art work by former tribal Chief Barry Dana. Maine tribal art is only begining to gain recognition.