A rally to support the Penobscot Nation's fight for water rights brought members of Wabanaki tribes and their allies to the Bangor waterfront on Sunday. Credit: Murray Carpenter / Maine Public

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LD 1626 is a bill headed to the state Legislature that would make necessary changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (MICSA) and the Maine Implementing Act (MIA) to reflect the sovereignty of Maine’s tribal nations.

Tribal sovereignty is a concept many U.S. citizens often struggle to grasp. Even as a member of one of New Mexico’s 19 Pueblo tribes, Ohkay Owingeh, I cannot say that I understand it fully either. However, because sovereignty influences policies which in turn influence tangible laws and regulations that directly affect the lives of indigenous people, it is important to try.

According to the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs, federally recognized tribes “[possess] the immunities and privileges available to them by virtue of their government-to-government relationship with the U.S. [and] the responsibilities, powers, limitations and obligations of such tribes.” Tribes that make up the Wabanaki Confederacy attained federal recognition in the 1970s-1990s, after decades of work.

Important issues hinge on the sovereignty inherent in federal recognition including the provision of healthcare for tribal members, criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed on tribal lands, education, and rights to enact and enforce environmental quality controls and regulate on-reservation businesses.  

The MICSA and MIA have prevented tribes in Maine from exercising their rights to act as federally recognized sovereign nations. This is a complex issue, but it is one that I challenge people to wrestle with and I hope they will because indigenous peoples have been wrestling with it for generations.

Johnny Sanchez