One of the proudest days of my life came on a chilly Tuesday in November 1991. After decades of tireless struggle, the Aroostook Band of Micmacs finally achieved federal recognition of our tribe. With the passage of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs Settlement Act, I felt certain the centuries of struggle my people had endured were over, and that with federal recognition would come new development and economic opportunities for the band.
In the more than quarter century since our legislative victory, my elation has slowly eroded as the opportunities I was so sure would flood our community have trickled in or dried up.
I felt excitement again in 2003, when I first began to hear rumors about the possibility of gaming coming to Maine. Gaming revenue has been critically important to sustaining Native American tribes across the United States. Every year tens of millions of dollars flow directly from the slot machines and table games of casinos to tribes that enjoy federal recognition. This money is put to use in a variety of areas, aimed at stimulating the economies of reservations and other areas with high concentrations of Native Americans.
Naturally, I thought that if gaming was introduced to our state, we would benefit as our brothers and sisters around the U.S. are benefitting.
But here we are — close to 15 years later — and my tribe has not seen a single penny from Maine’s gaming industry, which creates more than $50 million in tax revenue each year. Activists opposed to gaming in Maine have lobbied for deals that cut out large swathes of Maine’s tribes in an underhanded attempt to keep this industry out, hoping that the initiatives would fail without our support. Those initiatives did not fail, and those deals only succeeded to deprive those in need of valuable resources and development opportunities.
Currently, only the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes receive funding from the Oxford casino, leaving the similarly recognized Aroostook Band of Micmacs out in the cold.
Given the current state of the revenue stream in Maine, I was hopeful but wary when I learned that Shawn Scott, the man responsible for our first gaming venue in Bangor, was coming back to propose another in York County. As vice chief of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, it is my duty to promote the interests of my 1,240-member tribe, but I was worried a deal would be struck once again to ignore the needs of my community.
I could not have been more wrong.
Scott’s group — Progress for Maine — was open and happy to discuss the possibility of partnership with my tribe. They immediately understood the position we were in, and that they were situated to provide genuine support to my people. Our goal as a tribe is self-sustainability, and our partnership with Progress for Maine represents a significant step in that direction.
The Aroostook Band of Micmacs, under this agreement, will work together with Scott and other backers of Progress for Maine to create new non-gaming economic development opportunities for the tribe. It’s an exciting opportunity, and we are eager to hammer out further details and features of this historic partnership.
But first things first.
As vice chief, I am proud to support Question 1 because it helps my people in ways other groups and initiatives have declined to do.
We’ve been hearing a lot about how Question 1 will help Maine in a myriad of ways, that it helps all Mainers. After talking to and working with Yes on Question 1, I stand firmly behind this claim: Yes on Question 1 is good for everyone in Maine, especially those who have otherwise been swept aside.
On Nov. 7, I humbly ask that you vote “yes” on Question 1 — the Aroostook Band of Micmacs will thank you for it.
Richard Silliboy is vice chief of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs.
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