Robert F. Bukaty/AP

Maine Attorney General Under Fire Over Elvers

Gale Courey Toensing

For the Passamaquoddy, as for all indigenous nations, place is inseparable from identity. The Passamaquoddy community is on the continent’s easternmost point on the Atlantic coast. Passamaquoddy means “the People who Spear Pollock.” The coastal community has survived since time immemorial by fishing the Atlantic Ocean and the rivers that empty into it. In a community where unemployment is as high as 75 percent, it’s important for every tribal member to be able to provide for him- or herself, and access to traditional marine resources is crucial.

“Last year we had elders who received a license, and they pinned it to their chest because they were proud of it,” Hinton said. “We have pregnant women and single mothers and literally generations of families who go out on the banks of the river and try to make a little bit of money whenever they can. And for them, it’s not a profession, it’s a way of life that we have held onto so, so closely for so long.”

The proposed MOA, if finalized, would go a long way toward protecting both the state and the tribe’s interests, according to Hinton.

“We do feel strongly that the MOA is the proper way to cooperatively manage the resource and to resolve this issue with the state,” Hinton said. “If what we’re truly interested in is protection of the American eel, what [the MOA] symbolizes and what it means is that these two governments will be committed to undertaking robust management mechanisms that ensure the protection of that resource.”

As for Mills’ claim that the MOA creates an equal protection issue, Hinton said the agreement is consistent with similar agreements that have been court- issued or court-mandated or otherwise voluntarily entered into between tribes and states and sometimes even the federal government.

“So this is something that’s happened around the country. But recognizing that this is an ongoing negotiation, we are prepared to address the concerns and work through them,” he said. “We don’t feel that this is the type of issue that should otherwise trump what is excellent policy that serves a couple of different policy objectives for both the tribes and the state.”

Mills has recently come under additional fire in a hard-hitting letter from the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission to the Marine Resources Committee concerning LD 1625—a proposed bill the commission said is discriminatory, negatively impacts tribal sustenance fishing rights, and violates the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was endorsed unanimously by the Maine Legislature in 2008.

A significant part of the letter critiques Mills for her claims, among other things, that Congress extinguished tribal aboriginal claims to Maine’s marine resources, that the state has near total jurisdiction over tribes, and that the tribal-state commission has no statutory role. The commission was created under the federal Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act and its state companion, the Maine Implementing Act.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page