In this June 17, 2021, file photo, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, center of the front row, poses with leaders from Maine's four federally recognized Native tribes during a meeting at the Penobscot Nation's Indian Island Reservation. Credit: Courtesy of the Penobscot Nation

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It’s time to modernize the relationship between the state of Maine and the Wabanaki tribes. Members of a bipartisan task force listened hard to Wabanaki tribal representatives in 2019 and learned that what was written in 1980 has not and does not serve any of us well.

Tribes living in Maine should have the same rights as those in other parts of the United States. I want my Maliseet neighbors to enjoy the same relationship with federal law as the other 570 federally recognized tribes and not be held back by an unfair agreement with Maine. The fact that tribes elsewhere are leaving the Wabanaki behind should shame us into correcting this.

During health crises like COVID-19, Wabanaki communities need to be able to access federal resources to keep people safe. They need to have the authority to create economic development as they see fit. During climate chaos, Native people need to manage tribal lands, waters and resources in their own ways, so the people can continue to live where their ancestors have thrived for millenia.

The relationships built and the learning that took place during the task force’s meetings were enough to overcome fear of what these changes might bring. I hope that relationships between the state and Wabanaki tribes will likewise evolve. Let’s continue to learn from our Wabanaki neighbors and put away our fears in favor of those renewed relationships. Passage of LD 1626 is the next step in that process.

Mary Beth DiMarco