Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis attends State of the Union Address with Rep. Golden

By Ramona du Houx

February 10, 2023

Reflecting the government-to-government relationship between the Penobscot Nation and the United States, Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis attended President Biden’s State of the Union address to Congress as a guest of Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME).

The Penobscot Nation is one of four federally recognized Indian tribes in Maine, referred to collectively as the Wabanaki. Chief Francis, a resident of Indian Island, and is currently serving his sixth term as Chief.

“I’m honored to have the Chief of the Penobscot Nation, Kirk Francis, as my guest at this year’s State of the Union,” said Congressman Golden. “Chief Francis has been a dedicated leader for the Penobscot Nation and a key advocate in the push to bring equal opportunity to Maine’s tribes. I look forward to working with Chief Francis, as well as the leaders of all of the Wabanaki Tribes in the 118th Congress.”

In the 117th Congress, Golden’s his legislation to update the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (MICSA) to give Wabanaki tribes the same access to future beneficial federal laws as nearly every other federally recognized tribe in America passed the House.

“It is an honor to represent members of the Penobscot Nation with Congressman Golden at the State of the Union,” said Chief Francis. “I’ve been proud to work alongside the Congressman to bring the Wabanaki tribes in Maine one step closer to being afforded the same federal benefits available to the other 570 tribal governments. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue to bring awareness to this issue of basic fairness which has bipartisan support in Maine.”

The speech — which spanned just over 70 minutes — included an impromptu, and informal, policy negotiation with Republicans and a solemn moment that captivated the entire chamber. There were major agenda focuses on climate change action and building a clean energy economy with American made goods. The quality of life was addressed with healthcare initiatives.

Chief Kirk Francis applauded key components of President Biden’s agenda for 2023. During the address, President Biden indicated he would emphasize growing the middle class, focus on on cancer research and mental health issues, increase resources to fight the continuing opioid epidemic, and launch a Made in America initiative.

“Almost every issue raised by President Biden impacts the Penobscot Nation and our citizens,” said Chief Francis. “We appreciate a President finally prioritizing the fight against cancer. Given how quickly vaccines for the COVID-19 virus were developed, it seems reasonable to believe that significant progress on cancer research and cures can be made if adequately prioritized. Almost every family in the Penobscot community has been impacted by cancer, and we appreciate this issue being elevated by the White House and hope Congress will do the same.”

The cancer rates among the Penobscot people are more than double those of the state and federal rates.

The Penobscot Nation also supports President Biden’s efforts to increase resources to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic.

“I am tired of seeing our young people overdose on fentanyl or other opioids, and having to try to address the trauma that results from it. I know our community is tired of it too. We need more resources, including law enforcement resources, to keep these drugs out of communities,” said Chief Francis.

The Penobscot Nation commends President Biden’s Made in America initiative and the goals of requiring all materials for federally-funded projects to be made in America.

“As President Biden implements his Made in America initiative, we ask that he remember to include Native America. The Penobscot Nation is open for business and we want to play an integral part of growing our local and regional economies. We need the federal government’s support in that effort, including helping to eliminate obstacles on our tribal sovereignty,” said Chief Francis.

Currently, the Wabanaki tribes in Maine are excluded from many beneficial federal laws that apply to nearly every other federally recognized tribe in the country. Examples of laws that MICSA has prevented from applying to the Wabanaki tribes in the past include the Violence Against Women Act, which allows tribes to prosecute non-Indian defendants for domestic violence crimes against tribal members; the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which allows tribes to employ much-needed medical professionals who are licensed in another state; and the Stafford Act, which allows tribes to directly seek federal disaster relief and emergency assistance.