Gov. Janet Mills has appointed a former Penobscot Nation police chief and representative to the Maine Legislature as her senior adviser on tribal affairs. Donna Loring most recently served as a member of the Penobscot Nation's tribal council. Loring says she considers her new job a historic opportunity for the tribes and the state to improve relations.
Relations between Maine's four federally recognized Native American tribes and the state have been fractured in recent years by issues involving cultural identity and self determination. In 2015 the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Nations pulled their representatives to the Legislature because of what tribal leaders said was a lack of respect.
Loring, who served for a dozen years as a tribal rep herself, says Mills' willingness to open the doors of communication between the state and the tribes is more than just a little encouraging.
"It's the most positive sign I've ever seen in my lifetime,” she says. “And that's saying a lot 'cause I'm old."
At 70, Loring has a long record of public service that began as a teenager when she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corp and was stationed near Saigon during the Vietnam war. She returned home and became the first woman to graduate from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy and get a job as a police chief. She served the Penobscot Nation in that role for six years. As the governor's chief adviser on tribal matters, she will be responsible for offering guidance on issues such as health care, the opioid epidemic and economic development.
Mills says she wants to hear from the tribes about what kind of projects they have in mind.
"I want to open the door to various ideas, and Donna, I think, will be a great liaison to that effect,” says Mills. “She's familiar with members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, Maliseet and Micmac communities and I think she'll be reaching out, going to visit them and talking to them on my behalf and listening to them, and finding out what they feel they need to do and see how we can help."
Mills says she also intends to make appointments to the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission, which were left unfilled under the LePage administration. Mills is hopeful the Commission might help serve as a dispute-resolution forum that can help avoid litigation over issues like sustenance fishing and water quality standards that have strained relations between the state and the tribes in recent years.
A call to the Chief of the Passamaquoddy tribe seeking comment for this story was not immediately returned.
at 5:46 p.m. ET.