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New bill would grant Wabanaki free access to Maine state parks

Mount Katahdin
Robert F. Bukaty
FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2017, file photo, the first rays of sunlight color the clouds over Mount Katahdin in this view from Patten, Maine. The director of the Baxter State Park, Eben Sypitkowski, is floating the idea dropping the "Mount" from Maine's tallest mountain. Sypitkowski said Katahdin gets its name from Abenaki or Penobscot words that mean "greatest mountain," and therefore there's no need for the word "Mount."

A new bill would give Wabanaki tribal members free access to Maine state parks.

The proposal would simply allow members of federally-recognized tribes to visit Maine state parks for free.

Many of those who testified in favor of the bill during Wednesday's public hearing said the measure would be a small step in recognizing unceded Wabanaki territory and, in some ways, restoring their access to the land.

"Consider the request of LD 25, in allowing unhindered access to these sacred sites, where our children, our grandchildren and our future generations can share the same beauty in prayer and access that our ancestors have since the beginning of our creation as Wabanaki nations here in the territory that we call Maine," said Passamaquoddy Tribal Representative Aaron Dana.

The measure has at least nine cosponsors, including one Republican. The bill also has support from the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which said Wednesday that the measure would have a minimal impact on the revenue that the parks collect through day passes.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Craig Hickman, D-said a few of his constituents were surprised to learn that Maine didn't already offer free access to state parks to the Wabanaki. He believes the bill could strengthen the state's relationships with the tribes.

"It's self-explanatory. It's fair. It's necessary," he said.

Minnesota granted free access to state parks to indigenous citizens last year.