Maine’s historic treaty obligations to tribes will be printed alongside other parts of the state Constitution after voters backed Question 6 in Tuesday’s election.
The yes side of Question 6 had 73 percent of votes to 27 percent for the no side when the Bangor Daily News and Decision Desk HQ called the race at 9:18 p.m. Tuesday.
It was a key part of the tribal-rights push before the Legislature this year, although it is more of a symbolic measure because the obligations have remained part of the Constitution. Voters passed the change despite Gov. Janet Mills vociferously opposing it in March.
“The passage of Question 6 honors the legacy of our tribal ancestors,” Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Bryant said in a statement. “It brings about truth and transparency for all Mainers. I’m appreciative that Mainers agreed to support our shared history.”
One proponent told a legislative panel earlier this year that the change would “un-erase” part of the state’s history. In 1876, lawmakers took treaty obligations out of print, extracting them alongside antiquated items in changes aimed at increasing readability of the document.
The historic record is unclear on whether tribes were being explicitly targeted at that time. But Maine’s history is full of sinister examples in that vein, including a 1942 document that surfaced last year and showed lawmakers concocting a scheme to avoid massive payments to tribes.
Mills, a Democrat who took office in 2019 with a promise to repair the state’s historically fraught relationship with tribes, has inked major compromises, including one giving them full control of a mobile sports betting market that opened last week. But she has resisted their sweeping sovereignty push alongside smaller changes including the one contained in Question 6.
“Any legislation that could be interpreted as invoking ancient treaties as the legal basis for modern obligations would be confusing and potentially destabilizing,” Jerry Reid, her chief counsel, wrote in a March memo to lawmakers.