Power Brokers VII: Two States See Native Representation in the East

Brian Daffron
September 26, 2013


The wooded lands east of the Mississippi River were once the everyday homes for several more sovereign nations than are now serviced under the current Bureau of Indian Affairs' Eastern Region. Genocidal removal policies, such as those touted by the likes of Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren in the 1830s, greatly contributed to today's decreased Native population in the eastern United States. Yet, in spite of Old Hickory Jackson, Native people of both federal and state-recognized tribes serve on legislative committees and cast votes to make state laws in the East, with hopefully many more to someday run for office.


Maine has a unique representation system with at least three federally recognized tribes: the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. The tribes each send a representative to serve in the Maine State Legislature that is separate from the traditional senate and house districts. Although these tribal representatives are allowed to serve on committees and propose legislation with a co-sponsor, they are not allowed to vote on legislation due to Maine's concerns over dual representation according to the Bangor Daily News.

Representative Wayne Mitchell

Tribal Affiliation: Penobscot

Tribe Represented: Penobscot Nation

Years in Office: 2008-Present

Committees: Judiciary; Veterans; Legal Affairs

Key Legislation: Information not available

Representative Henry John Bear

Tribal Affiliation: Maliseet

Tribe Represented: Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians

Years in Office: 2012-Present

Committees: Health and Human Services

Key Legislation: Information not available

Representative Madonna Soctomah

Tribal Affiliation: Passamaquoddy

Tribe Represented: Passamaquoddy Tribe

Years in Office: 2010-Present

Committees: Education and Cultural Affairs

Key Legislation: Information not available

North Carolina

According to the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs, the state's Native population is an estimated 122,100 and is the state with the largest Native population east of the Mississippi River. North Carolina is home to one federally recognized tribe—the Eastern Band of Cherokee—and recognizes seven other tribes. The largest of these is the Lumbee Tribe, who received a partial federal recognition in 1956 but still continues its pursuit of full federal recognition. From the Lumbee is the North Carolina General Assembly's sole Native legislator.

Representative Charles Graham (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Lumbee

House District: 47

Years in Office: 2011-Present

Committees: Vice-Chair, Agriculture; Appropriations; Appropriations Subcommittee on Justice and Public Safety; Commerce and Job Development; Vice-Chair, Commerce and Job Development Subcommittee on Biotechnology & Health Care; Education; Insurance; Transportation; Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety.

Key Legislation: Transition to Digital Learning in Schools; Transfer of Indian Cultural Center property; Court Improvement Project Juvenile Law Changes.

Sources: Irene Kawanabe, National Caucus of Native American State Legislators; Bangor Daily News; maine.gov/legis/; North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs; ballotpedia.org; lumbeetribe.com; bia.gov; ncga.state.nc.us.