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, March 16, at the State House in Augusta, Maine. Rena Newell, Chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik, Edward Peter Paul, Chief of the Aroostook Band of Mi'kmaqs, 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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Jason Grundstrom-Whitney is a member of the Wabanaki Alliance.

In Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he mentions that the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence are promissory notes that are a guarantee to all the inalienable rights in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

He mentions further that we have defaulted on these promissory notes and do not meet our, in his words, sacred obligation to all people in America. It is important to take heed of what King implied here. He is essentially intimating that the soul of America has been jaundiced or diseased by not following its own sacred social contract. By not following this social contract, the doors for the less than inspirational aspects of the individual human soul have swung open, and the sulfuric winds of hatred, institutional and systemic racism, greed, avarice, power and control have appeared. 

Of course, we know the sordid history of the framers of these documents. Though the speech was elevated and beautifully written, they were wealthy landowners, and some were slave owners. Having said this, words are a sacred obligation, words that are collected and honored as the foundations of a nation must be regarded and upheld lest they lose relevance, and the staying power of the collective will of the people. History will tell if we have been successful in the enterprise of democracy built on the foundation of these documents.

In Maine, we are in a violent battle for our very soul. You may ponder, can we really use the word “violence”? But are there not many forms of violence? Total disregard, well-apportioned silence, words omitted, words used to spread untruths, denial of an entire population’s history and sacred treaties and obligations with said people. Violence, as the Buddha said, can be a thought that changes your world. 

If, for instance, we believe that the Wabanaki have received appropriate recompense for the atrocities of colonization via the 1980 Land Claims Settlement Act, then all other words will be met with a refutation built on state governance’s false information that has no interest in recognizing inherent tribal sovereignty let alone fair negotiations with a land claims act.

King intimates that social contracts are the framework, the guidance, the so-called beacon of democracy. In not following or living up to the sacred obligation of said words we become diseased. Maine is diseased, and has been for a long time according to this litmus.

More than 100 years ago, Maine chose to omit treaties and obligations to the Wabanaki people from the Maine Constitution. I believe this was an intentional act, one of sustained violence toward the original peoples of Maine.

Truth cannot be omitted.

Untruth is a festering splinter to the collective either by omission or lies. Splinters eventually come to the surface. Truth is light, free from impediment.

This Nov. 7, we have an opportunity to make a tangible step in Maine’s healing process. We can vote “yes” on Question 6 so that the treaties and obligations to the Wabanaki people of Maine will be printed in the Maine Constitution. By doing this, we will again see the history of the relationship between Maine and the Wabanaki. 

Some of these treaties existed before Maine was Maine and the U.S. was a nation! This will give Mainers the opportunity to see the words and to understand that a nation only makes treaties with other sovereign nations, being so, the pathway to the state of Maine’s recognizing inherent sovereignty will be a step celebrated and chosen by all to rectify wrongs that have existed before statehood.

The very soil of Maine is consecrated by the blood and bone of the Wabanaki people. They have been in this state for more than 13,000 years. Colonization is but a momentary blink in reference to this timetable. In that relative tiny amount of time, the atrocities committed have been unconscionable. 

Juxtaposed to this is the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, promissory notes as it were for the people and by the people. State constitutions, though dissimilar in many ways to the U.S. Constitution, should also be for all constituents in the state.

Maine, in leaving out a significant section of history of the state by eliminating treaties and obligations from its constitution, nullifies truth and transparency regarding the Wabanaki people.

The splinter of untruth is surfacing. We now can let the light of truth back into the Maine Constitution in perpetuity. Please vote yes on 6.