A legislative task force created to review issues that have emerged from the 40-year-old Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement law held its first meeting on Monday. One of the major issues involves tribal sovereignty.
Co-chair Mike Carpenter, a Democratic state senator from Houlton, says the issues before the panel are far-reaching and complex.
“I think we could take some small bites and see if we could figure out how make them work. And if we have success there, I think we have an unlimited amount of goodwill there to go forward,” he says.
The 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act created as many questions as it resolved. The Maine tribes were never compensated for land taken by the newly formed federal government as required by a law passed in 1799. The federal government paid a little more than $80 million to settle the claims in 1980 and set the framework for its relations with the tribes, as well as the state’s. But some other fundamental issues were left unclear, including the sovereignty of the tribes and how that weighs against the sovereignty of the state.
“We need to focus on a section that allows the Maine tribes to access federal beneficial acts and the state should identify if that is allowed, then what are the concerns. The elephant in the room is always gaming,” says Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis.
Panel members say they hope to have some recommendations for the Legislature by January, but doubt that they have time to come up with a comprehensive proposal.