Maine Gov. Janet Mills addresses a large crowd on the steps of Portland City Hall on Friday, June 24, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.

A constitutional amendment to require treaties between the state and tribes to be printed as part of the Maine Constitution is being championed by the Democratic House speaker. Attorney General Aaron Frey and Secretary of State Shenna Bellows support it, too.

But a top aide to Gov. Janet Mills called it “a misguided attempt to right a historic wrong that never occurred” in a bid to persuade lawmakers to kill the idea.

They are technically part of the document already, but the state removed the obligations from printed versions in 1876 as part of changes billed as making the Constitution easier to read. Tribes now want them added back, and it’s leading to another split with Mills.

Why they’re gone: Historic reasons for that omission were the subject of a 2021 report by the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission finding no clear evidence that Maine was trying to hide its obligations from public view. But Maine’s history is full of sinister examples in that vein, including a 1942 document that surfaced last year and shows a scheme to avoid massive payments.

Tribes and their allies are now before the Legislature arguing for the treaties to be included, with Ambassador Maulian Dana of the Penobscot Nation   calling House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross’ proposal a “powerful truth-seeking measure.” Another Penobscot voice, University of Maine anthropologist Darren Ranco,   argues it would “un-erase” part of state-tribal history.

The Democratic split: Both Frey and Bellows showed up at a public hearing on Tuesday to support printing the obligations,   according to Maine Public. But the testimony from Mills’ office went strongly in the other direction, with Jerry Reid, her top lawyer, noting no evidence of ill motivations behind the 1876 changes and saying a 1980 state-tribal settlement — not treaties — defines the sides’ relationship.

“Any legislation that could be interpreted as invoking ancient treaties as the legal basis for modern obligations would be confusing and potentially destabilizing,” Reid wrote.

The recent past: Ever since Mills took office in 2019, tribes have been pushing a major overhaul of the 1980 document. They have won changes from the governor, including a landmark bill last year giving them control of a new mobile sports betting market and tax relief.

But Mills has resisted their wider effort, even as legislative Democrats embrace it. We’re seeing another example of that division here. It could manifest itself on other subjects with sports betting likely to be implemented in the middle of this year.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...