Clarissa Sabattis, chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseets, foreground, and other leaders of Maine's tribes are welcomed by lawmakers into the House Chamber in this March 16, 2023 Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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John Andrews of Paris represents District 79 in the Maine House of Representatives. He is a co-sponsor of LD 2004.

“Now Brothers never let the Kings Wicked Councilors turn your Hearts Against Me and your Brethren of this Country.”

These words were written by Gen. George Washington on Christmas Eve in 1776. Washington took the time to write to the chiefs of the Passamaquoddy Tribe before he faced what looked like certain death in crossing the icy Delaware River and fighting the Hessians at the Battle of Trenton. Our nation’s first president was a friend of the tribes and respected them.

Gov. Janet Mills should follow suit.

I’ve taken the time over my five years in Augusta to meet with chiefs and tribal representatives. I’ve heard them and listened to them. Their battle for liberty and respect is something that I will never know. However, I can see the struggles of my Irish ancestors in their eyes. Everyone wants to be free.

I would be remiss as a lawmaker if I did not see the equivalency of cause in the Maine tribes’ fight for dignity. I swore an oath to the Constitution, the Constitution that Washington signed. I intend as a legislator to hold fast to the friendship that Washington showed our state’s tribes. It’s good policy, and it’s the right thing to do.

Together as a state, we can reforge the bright chain of friendship that was crafted centuries ago between the People of the Dawn and those American rebels fighting for their own independence on the banks of the Delaware River. The tribes had our backs then, and it’s time we had theirs now.

LD 2004 would allow Maine tribes to directly communicate with the federal government to access laws and programs that would benefit their communities. LD 2004 passed the Maine House and Senate with unanimous consent votes for enactment. This should be seen as a message to the governor.

At its core, LD 2004 is a piece of legislation that would get state government out of the way. Maine tribes would be put on the same level of access with every other federally recognized tribe. Just like they are in every other state in the nation. Maine tribes and their communities would no longer have to beg permission to plan their lives from lawmakers, and a governor and her legal counselors.

This necessary piece of legislation was vetoed Friday by Gov. Janet Mills. I believe this action is on par with every intolerable act that King George III levied against the American colonists. The game is the same, but the players are different.  

LD 2004 is an issue of basic liberty. Liberty for our tribes is long overdue. That is why I am proud to be a co-sponsor on this bipartisan bill that would help people live free and have the certainty to plan their future endeavors with regard to prosperity and economic development.

Because of the 1980 settlement act, the Wabanaki tribes’ health, educational and economic outcomes have lagged far behind those of other population groups in Maine and other tribes throughout the country. President Ronald Reagan was a proud supporter of tribal self determination. In 1983, the Republican said: “Since tribal governments have the primary responsibility for meeting the basic needs of Indian communities, they must be allowed the chance to succeed.”

Those words ring true today. Maine Republicans need to live the values of one of their iconic presidents. We as Republicans were founded as an abolitionist party. We need to get back to our roots and core values of fighting for the freedom of all people.

I believe the governor’s veto of this bill is out of bounds and just plain vindictive against Maine’s tribes. Even some of the governor’s most ardent supporters did not want her to veto this bill.

Now, in the spirit of liberty, Maine Republicans must override her veto of this bill. This week of July 4 we have a real chance to fight tyranny or support it. I suggest that my fellow Republicans in the 131st Legislature walk in the footsteps of Washington and Reagan. We do not need to have our hearts turned against our state’s tribes by Mills and her counselors. We as Republicans should be fighting for the freedom and liberty of our Indigenous brothers and sisters.