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Hundreds rally at State House for Question 6 on Indigenous Peoples' Day

Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Bryant speaking to the group that rallied at the State House on Indegenous Peoples' Day on Oct. 9. 2023.
Kevin Miller
Maine Public
Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Bryant speaking to the group that rallied at the Maine State House on Indigenous Peoples' Day on Oct. 9. 2023. They were urging support for Question 6 on the November ballot.

Several hundred people rallied outside of the Maine State House on Monday to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day and to urge support for Question 6 on the November ballot.

Question 6 asks whether printed versions of Maine's constitution should include three sections that have been omitted from paper copies since 1876. One of those sections deals with the state's obligation to honor treaties negotiated with tribal nations before Maine separated from Massachusetts in 1820.

While the section remains in full effect, Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Bryant told more than 250 supporters that the language has been effectively removed from printed history. Bryant said there’s no “hidden agenda” or secrets behind Question 6 but is, instead, about “transparency, truth and restoration of our history.”

“And whatever the reason is for taking those out of print, now is the time to restore it, now is the time to fix it and now is time to vote ‘yes’ on Question 6 and get our full history in our printed Constitution,” Bryant said.

In addition to rallying and marching around the State House, attendees then planned to fan out across Augusta and other towns on Monday to knock on doors and speak with voters about Question 6.

One of 8 ballot questions

Question 6 is one of four proposed constitutional amendments and one of eight total initiatives on this fall's ballot.

Much of the political focus around this fall’s elections has been on Question 3, which asks voters whether they want to force Maine’s two largest utilities, Central Maine Power and Versant Power, to sell their assets to a new consumer-owned utility run by an elected board. That campaign has seen tens of millions of dollars in spending, almost all of it by the parent companies of CMP and Versant to oppose Question 3.

Question 6, by comparison, has encountered little opposition since lawmakers opted to send it voters as a constitutional amendment earlier this year.

But the initiative is a top priority for leaders of the Wabanaki Nations. And Monday’s rally – timed for the state’s fifth official observance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day – was also a demonstration of the continued support that Wabanaki leaders have among some groups and politicians for their broader push for greater tribal sovereignty in Maine.

Senate President Troy Jackson, an Allagash Democrat who has been a close ally of Wabanaki leaders in recent years, told the rally that it is “unconscionable” to omit an entire section of Maine’s Constitution dealing with tribal treaties “for no good reason.”

“That’s why I think it’s incumbent on all of us to vote on Question 6. Do what’s right on Question 6, put the tribal language back in and then let’s go on to fight for solidarity and fight for sovereignty for the tribes,” Jackson said to loud applause.

everal hundred people rallied outside of the Maine State House on Monday to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day and to urge support for Question 6 on the November ballot.
Kevin Miller
Maine Public
Several hundred people rallied outside of the Maine State House on Monday, Nov. 9, 2023, to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day and to urge support for Question 6 on the November ballot.

Reason for omission unclear

The historic record is not entirely clearabout why, in 1875, a special commission recommended omitting Article X, Section 5 of the Maine constitution from future printings. The stated reason for the commission was to clean up a document that some said had become too wordy and cumbersome. And two of the omitted sections largely dealt with the nitty gritty details of Maine’s break-away from Massachusetts, ranging from how a Legislature would be formed and when it would meet to how many federal guns and how much money the new state would receive from Massachusetts.

But discrimination against and oppression of tribal communities was rampant in Maine at the time of the commission. And some historians along with tribal leaders have argued that the decision to omit the tribal treaty language from printed copies of the Constitution was likely an attempt by Maine’s leadership at the time to silence or dismiss those obligations to the tribes.

Supporters tried to restore the language several years ago but the Legislature balked at the idea. This year, the bill to send a proposed constitutional amendment to voters received strong bipartisan support.

Gov. Mills ‘committed to collaborating’ with tribes


The administration of Gov. Janet Mills opposed the proposal, however, arguing to a legislative committee that the bill was “misguided attempt to right a historic wrong that never occurred.”

Mills has had, at times, frosty relations with tribal leaders because of her staunch opposition to the campaign to overhaul the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act. Leaders of the Wabanaki tribes – the Penobscot Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and the Mi’kmaq nation – say the state has used the 1980 agreement to block application in Maine of laws passed by Congress to benefit more than 500 other federally recognized tribes across the country.

Maine’s Democratic governor successfully vetoed a sovereignty bill earlier this year, saying it was overly broad and would lead to more litigation. Instead, Mills has pledged to work with tribal leaders to address specific policy disputes. And the Mills administration contends the governor has worked closely with the tribes on many other issues, ranging from renaming Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day to improving water quality and expanding tribal jurisdiction over domestic violence cases.

“On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we honor the people of the Wabanaki Nations, the earliest stewards of this place we call home, and recommit ourselves to a shared future of prosperity rooted in mutual trust, respect, and collaboration,” Mills said in a statement released Monday to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“While there is still much work ahead, I am proud of the historic progress that my Administration and Maine’s Tribal Nations have achieved together – more than any Maine Governor in the last four decades – and the good that it will do for the Wabanaki people. While we may have disagreements on some areas of policy, I remain fully committed to collaborating with the Wabanaki Nations to find common ground to move forward, just as we have in the past.”

Sovereignty push continues

It was obvious among many speakers and attendees of Monday’s rally that they saw a connection between restoring the constitutional language and the broader push for sovereignty.

“We never ceded our sovereignty because our leaders, under duress, agreed to the terms of the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act,” said Bryant, the Penobscot ambassador. “We did not give up who we are, we did not give up our sovereign status . . . we are federally recognized nations and we should have the same rights as every other tribe in the country.”

Belfast resident Diane Oltarzewaski agreed that the issues were connected. As she marched, she held a handmade sign reading, “No hiding from history.”

“It couldn’t be more important,” she said in an interview. “We are at such a turning point in Maine, I think, where there is such a broad base and a growing base of understanding and support and awareness that if the tribes do well, we all do well. And conversely, we can’t live with any kind of integrity if the boot continues to be on their neck in terms of limiting their options for all of the federal Indian law that is theirs by right.”