July 5, 2023 3 min read

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Maine Governor Vetoes Bill on Wabanaki Tribal Federal Rights

Despite enjoying bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, ID 2004, was rejected by the Democratic governor, who argued that its provisions could lead to prolonged legal disputes

Maine Gov. Janet Mills has vetoed a crucial piece of legislation that sought to grant greater federal rights to the Wabanaki tribes, resulting in disappointment and frustration among tribal communities. the bill came with a significant caveat – it excluded the tribes’ ability to organize class II gaming on their reservations, a concession made to secure the support of Maine Republicans. Despite this, the bill managed to pass with a supermajority in the state legislature, theoretically allowing lawmakers to override the governor’s veto.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills Vetoes Bill, Asks for Revision

The bill’s proponents, including Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis, had hailed its potential to mark a landmark victory for Wabanaki self-determination, and many were bewildered by the governor’s decision. This marks the second time Governor Mills has vetoed legislation aimed at expanding sovereignty for the Wabanaki tribes, who currently experience narrower sovereignty compared to other Native American groups in the United States.

Under the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (MICSA), the Wabanaki tribes have faced restrictions on their sovereign rights, remaining subject to state laws instead of being treated on par with the 570 federally recognized tribes in the country. ID 2004 aimed to rectify this disparity, granting the tribes access to federal benefits previously denied to them under the 1980 land claims settlement.

Governor Mills’s six-page veto letter emphasized her concern over potential conflicts and litigation arising from the bill’s provisions, particularly regarding its impact on Maine laws governing public health, safety, and welfare on tribal lands. She called for all parties involved, including the tribes and the attorney general, to work together to draft a better proposal that can address the tribes’ concerns effectively.

Wabanaki Tribal Leaders Disappointed by Governor’s Actions, Hopeful for Legislative Veto Override

Wabanaki tribal leaders, on the other hand, expressed disappointment and distrust in the governor’s motives. Chief Kirk Francis asserted that the governor’s actions were disingenuous and aimed at preserving an outdated mindset, preventing progress for tribal communities. He remained optimistic that the legislature would overturn the veto, pointing out the widespread support for the bill among Mainers who value fairness and equity.

Despite the setback, tribal leaders are determined to continue advocating for greater autonomy and sovereignty. Their journey has been fraught with challenges since the 1980 settlement, with disagreements over water rights, environmental issues, and the lack of direct engagement with the federal government, unlike other federally recognized tribes.

Now, it remains to be seen whether the legislature can muster the support needed to override the governor’s veto and advance the much-anticipated legislation. Against this backdrop, Maine actually was the first state in 2022 to legalize sports gambling, allowing Native American tribes to launch mobile sports betting and encouraging collaboration between tribes and commercial operators.

Author

Silvia has dabbled in all sorts of writing – from content writing for social media to movie scripts. She has a Bachelor's in Screenwriting and experience in marketing and producing documentary films. With her background as a customer support agent within the gambling industry, she brings valuable insight to the Gambling News writers’ team.

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