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Deer Island is a Canadian island at the entrance to Passamaquoddy Bay.

‘Racism Is Central’ to Tribal Conflict with Maine, Says Report

Gale Courey Toensing

When Maine lawmakers passed a law this spring that limited the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s jurisdiction over elvers fishing, they violated the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act by acting without the tribe’s consent, an important new report says.

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But that wasn’t the only time state legislators violated the treaty by which the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Indian Nation gave up their land rights claim to 12.5 million acres of land – roughly a third of Maine. The carefully researched 41-page report, called Assessment of the Intergovernmental Saltwater Fisheries Conflict Between Passamaquoddy and the State of Maine found that the legislature violated the MICSA by circumventing its amendment process when it legislated on saltwater fishery issues without the consent of the Passamaquoddy Tribe in 1998, 2013, and 2014. The amendment process requires tribal approval for any amendments to the Maine Implementing Act (MIA) – the state law that implements the federal Settlement Act – that relate to “the enforcement or application of civil, criminal or regulatory laws” that affect the tribe.

The report was co-written by Jamie Bissonette Lewey, chair of the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission (MITSC) and Commissioner Dr. Gail Dana-Sacco and researched by MITSC Executive Director John Dieffenbacher-Krall. MITSC was created by the Settlement Act and mandated, among other things, with continually reviewing the effectiveness of the Maine Implementing Act.

“This report sheds light on the costly, ineffective and adversarial attempts to resolve this conflict, including contravention of the statutorily mandated process to amend the MIA,” Lewey said in a prepared statement. “We encourage the parties to the Settlement Agreements to engage in pragmatic and constructive dialogue, with renewed commitment to advance conflict resolution, openness, negotiations, formal agreements and mutually beneficial solutions for all of the peoples who live within the State of Maine.”

The report documents the conflict surfacing as early as 1984. It remained unresolved and was included in a 1997 report by a Task Force on Tribal-State Relations called At Loggerheads – the State of Maine and the Wabanaki on the relationship between the Wabanaki nations and the state.

That report found racism to be at the core of the troubled tribal-state relationship. “Racism is experienced by the Wabanaki, but generally is not recognized by the majority society,” the 1997 report noted. MITSC’s current report says the issue of racism has not only persisted; it is “central” to the tribal-state conflict.


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