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Proposal sought by Wabanaki tribes left out of final federal defense bill

Tribal Sovereignty Maine
Robert F. Bukaty
Chief Maggie Dana of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point, right, at the State House in Augusta, Maine, on Tuesday, April 12, 2022.

Maine will receive several million dollars for research and shipbuilding improvements as part of a national defense bill that's moving through Congress, but a provision supported by Maine's Wabanaki tribes didn't make the final cut.

The proposal, which Rep. Jared Golden introduced earlier this year, would allow Maine's Wabanaki tribes to benefit from all future federal laws and policies that apply to other federally recognized tribes.

Tribal leaders view the Advancing Equality of Wabanaki Nations Act as a way to address what they have described as a longstanding disparity between Maine's tribes and their counterparts across the country.

Golden inserted the Wabanaki bill into the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which details how the military will spend billions of dollars each year.

The defense bill was seen as one of two potential vehicles for passing the Wabanaki proposal into law.

But the final version of the defense bill — which has now passed the House and will likely clear the Senate — doesn't include the Wabanaki proposal.

"It is a disappointment that the Senate would not support this legislation to benefit Wabanaki tribes in Maine, but we are fortunate to have other vehicles to get this bill passed into law, and I will continue to support that effort in every possible way that I can," Golden said Friday in an emailed statement.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, an original co-sponsor of the Wabanaki measure, included it a House-passed annual budget bill for next year. But the Senate has yet to weigh in, and Congress is up a tight timeline to pass some sort of budget measure before the end of the year.

The final defense bill includes funding for the construction of additional DDG-51 destroyers, many of which will built at Bath Iron Works, as well $25 million for defense research programs at the University of Maine. The US Senate is expected to take up the defense bill in the coming weeks.