"Maine voters should join in the critical effort of building more understanding and trust by voting yes on Question 6."
The Wabanki Alliance hosted a rally on Oct. 9, 2023, at the State House in Augusta to mark Indigenous People's Day and call on voters to support Question 6, a November referendum that would restore the state's tribal treaty obligations to the Maine Constitution. Credit: Billy Kobin / BDN

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Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to require that all of the provisions of the Constitution be included in the official printed copies of the Constitution prepared by the Secretary of State?

Seems rather obvious, doesn’t it, that the official Maine Constitution should actually contain all parts of that constitution? That principle alone is almost enough to support Question 6 without knowing anything else.

Beyond that general starting point, there is a much more specific reason to support Question 6: Ensuring that the Wabanaki tribes, and the state’s historic treaty obligations to them, are more fully present in all official copies of our founding document. At a time when the state and the tribes need to continue forging a more productive and balanced relationship, this fuller reflection of history should be one easy step forward that everyone can take together.

Maine voters should join in the critical effort of building more understanding and trust by voting yes on Question 6.

Question 6 would not change any state laws related to the tribes — it would simply ensure that historic treaty obligations are actually fully included in the Maine Constitution.

In the 1870s, three sections of the Maine Constitution were excluded from the official printed copies of the document. Among these were Article X, Section 5, which features the full Articles of Separation tied to Maine breaking off from Massachusetts — and includes the treaty responsibilities related to the tribes that Maine assumed when becoming a state. That decision excluded Section 5 from being printed in official copies, but also specified that Section 5 “shall remain in full force.”

To state it more plainly: Those provisions are still in the Maine Constitution and they remain in effect, so they should be restored to the official copies of the Constitution as well.

Adding them will come at little cost and effort from the state. Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows told us at a recent event in Bangor that there would be “minor costs” involved in printing some additional pages, but said those can be absorbed as her office already budgets for printing the official state Constitution.

Excluding the unprinted sections has already proven to have a negative cost, in the unfortunate and divisive message it sends to the Wabanaki people.

“The tribes, we’ve always sort of known about this in our communities, and it’s always been kind of a head scratcher for us, and for sure adds to a lot of the feelings of distrust, and no communication, and a lot of these tense feelings between us and the state of Maine,” Maulian Bryant, the Penobscot Nation Ambassador and Wabanaki Alliance board president, told the BDN editorial board this week.

Bryant expressed excitement and appreciation for the effort behind Question 6 and the “really good bipartisan support” that has coalesced around it. This broad group of supporters includes lawmakers, the state’s attorney general and secretary of state. Unfortunately, it has not included Gov. Janet Mills.

The governor’s chief legal counsel, Gerald Reid, testified in March against the bill that led to Question 6. The two reasons he gave were that it “appears to be a misguided attempt to right a historic wrong that never occurred” and that “not everyone will understand” that the question will not change the legal effect of the treaty obligations. He pointed to more recent state and federal statutes related to tribal obligations, and worried, “Any legislation that could be interpreted as invoking ancient treaties as the legal basis for modern obligations would be confusing and potentially destabilizing.”

We find these arguments, particularly the idea that taking action now would somehow further a “baseless theory” about events in the 1870s, to be counter to the need for collaborative and conciliatory action moving forward. And to us, it is already confusing to leave out parts of the Constitution still in force. Wouldn’t it be better to trust Mainers to read through the full document, rather than assuming that more background would confuse them?

The historical record might not be crystal clear on why these obligations were first omitted from printing, but what is clear is the negative impact this omission has had in tribal communities since then. Addressing that impact should be enough of a reason to act now in support of Question 6, regardless of the intent in 1875.

“I remember my family being in tribal leadership and talking about this issue,” Bryant told the editorial board. “And it was always sort of the conclusion was: Well, of course they don’t want that history in there. Of course, they don’t want to look at the treaties or honor that social contract with the tribes in that, really, genesis of this relationship.”

Tribal voices are telling us how this omission affects their communities and their relationship with the state. We need to listen to them now, rather than getting caught up in what people might have been thinking in the past. Regardless of past intent, it is clear now that it was a mistake that should be rectified.

That’s why Question 6 deserves overwhelming support from Mainers.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...