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Bill to give Wabanaki tribes parity under federal law advances

The U. S. Capitol is seen at sunrise in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2022.
Jose Luis Magana
The U. S. Capitol is seen at sunrise in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2022.

The House Natural Resources Committee today advanced a bill to give Wabanaki tribes in Maine the same access to federal laws and protections that benefit nearly every other federally recognized tribe in the country.

Sponsored by Congressman Jared Golden and cosponsored by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree the Advancing Equality for Wabanaki Nations Act would update federal law to allow tribes in Maine to receive the same benefits as their peers.

Currently, the Wabanaki are excluded from many federal laws that apply to other tribes because of the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act. Examples of federal laws that have not applied to them are 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 medical professionals who are licensed in another state and the Stafford Act, which allows tribes to directly seek federal disaster relief and emergency assistance.

In a written statement, Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis calls the bill, which was supported by a bipartisan majority of House Natural Resources Committee members, "forward thinking" and says he hopes to have a vote by the full House of Representatives soon.

Golden says after months of close collaboration with Wabanaki tribal leaders, the committee vote brings the Wabanaki nations "a big step closer to better economic opportunity and basic fairness." And Congresswoman Pingree says it's a promising step towards fixing the disparity that has uniquely challenged Maine’s tribes for decades."

The bill, which is supported by the U.S. Department of the Interior, has also been endorsed by the National Indian Child Welfare Association and the National Congress of American Indians.