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 on March 16, 2023, at the State House in Augusta. Rena Newell, chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik, Edward Peter Paul, chief of the Mi'kmaq Nation, Kirk Francis, chief of the Penobscot Nation, and William Nicholas, chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk, follow behind. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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LD 2004, An Act to Restore Access to Federal Laws Beneficial to the Wabanaki Nations, would put an end to the State of Maine’s practice, established in the 1980 settlement acts, of blocking the Wabanaki nations located in Maine from benefiting from laws intended to benefit all federally recognized tribes.

Maine is the only state in the United States that has this power. In every other state, the tribes are sovereign and can work with the states as equals to benefit from federal programs.

I think Gov. Janet Mills’ veto of LD 2004 is an attempt to perpetuate Maine’s exceptionality in its relations with the nations located within its borders. This is an exceptionality of which Mainers cannot be proud. I believe it is motivated by a desire to maintain domination over the Wabanaki tribes, and by fear of “unintended consequences” that every other state has successfully worked through with the nations within those states.

The Wabanaki nations’ only remedy to Maine’s unique ability to block them from federal benefits is to lobby Congress to explicitly include them in any federal law that the state might choose to block. This is an unfair burden. Wabanaki leaders cannot anticipate which federal laws the state of Maine might decide to block, months or even years after they become law.

LD 2004 passed both chambers of the Legislature with two-thirds majorities, demonstrating broad bipartisan support. Please contact your legislators as soon as possible and urge them to override Mills’ veto of LD 2004 this week.

John Maddaus

Associate professor emeritus

University of Maine

Albuquerque, New Mexico