In this April 26, 2019, file photo, Gov. Janet Mills speaks at the signing ceremony to establish Indigenous People's Day at the State House in Augusta. William J. Nicholas Sr., Governor of the Passamaquoddy Tribe-Indian Township, left, and Clarissa Sabattus, Tribal Chief of Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians attended the event. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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Diane Oltarzewski of Belfast is a member of the Friends (Quaker) Committee on Maine Public Policy, and a supporter of the Wabanaki Alliance.

Treaties are international instruments of understanding and cooperation, and state constitutions also embody significant history. Strangely, Maine’s Constitution was compromised in 1876, amended to omit (from print versions only) the acknowledgment of the existence of Indigenous nations in the new state and the obligation to honor the treaties that Maine inherited from Massachusetts.

LD 78, the current bill to address this omission before the Legislature, would reverse the 1876 amendment and restore the full text of the Constitution whenever it is printed. If the law is passed, a popular referendum would follow for Mainers to assent to this reparative amendment.

This bill is truth-telling at an elemental level, and seems part of a broader national resolve to ensure that history is transmitted fully and accurately to coming generations. Who could be against that? The answer, unfortunately, is our governor. A statement from her office reads:  “Any legislation that could be interpreted as invoking ancient treaties as the legal basis for modern obligations would be confusing and potentially destabilizing.”

Personally, I find that statement insulting. First of all, these are not “ancient” treaties, but largely 18th- and 19th-century documents with clear provisions, negotiated at the time between U.S. representatives and free and independent Wabanaki leaders. I believe Gov. Janet Mills sees a threat where there is none.

The tribes have long wanted this omission corrected as a matter of principle — a frank acknowledgment by the state, dignifying fully that particular moment in history, for every person, when Maine’s statehood was achieved. As former Passamaquoddy Vice Chief Darrell Newell would say, “It’s a no-brainer!”

To oppose it seems to me so small and mean, so unnecessary — especially when LD 78 has the full support of the attorney general and secretary of state!

I know that in the past, Maine’s position had often been “no nation within a nation.” But the sooner we understand that that is indeed our reality in the 21st century, the better off we will all be. The Wabanaki are a sovereign people and culture, and their chiefs (and we all) deserve better than this ongoing, cloudy paternalism from a state governor.