Land in Common’s Testimony in Support of Wabanaki Sovereignty (LD 2094)
Testimony of Ethan Miller, Organizational Development Coordinator, Land in Common
Submitted to the Maine State Legislature’s Judiciary Committee in Support of LD 2094, An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act
February 11, 2020
To Senator Carpenter, Representative Bailey, and members of the Judiciary Committee,
I write on behalf of Land in Common (www.landincommon.org), a Maine community land trust that represents a growing constituency of people committed to creating equitable access to land in our state and to repairing the harms of past and current injustices related to land and land tenure.
Following Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Micmac tribal leadership, we urge you to support the passage of LD 2094. This is a major and necessary step, among others, toward addressing the historical and contemporary harms experienced by Wabanaki people and nations.
We have studied our history. It is indisputable that the land now known as Maine has been the traditional homeland of Wabanaki people for thousands of years, and that a vast majority of this land was taken from them through force and deceit by European settlers and their descendants. The Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 was an attempt to create some degree of legal resolution for both the State and the Tribes around the dynamics of some of these problematic land acquisitions.
Yet two issues related to the Settlement Act must be acknowledged.
First, the Settlement Act itself was a tremendous compromise on the part of the Tribes, made under pressure of the political threats of congressional termination and the impending election of parties hostile to fair resolution (on this, see the work of historian Maria Girouard).1 Actual repair of the harms caused by colonization and European land taking must extend well beyond the narrow confines of the Settlement Act and must involve taking the lead of Wabanaki Tribes in seeking pathways for healing. At the very least, though, generous interpretation of the Settlement Act in favor of the Tribes is imperative.
Second, the State of Maine’s interpretation of the Settlement Act has often been at odds with the Tribes’ aspirations to and assertions of self-determination as federally-recognized Native nations. This has led to significant conflict between the parties and to ongoing harm to the dignity and aspirations of the Tribes. These differences must be clarified in a way that most clearly honors and affirms Tribal self-determination.
LD 2094 is the result of a careful process of reflection and discussion, implemented through the Maine Indian Claims Task Force, about how to create a more fair and effective pathway forward. The heart of the matter—in fact quite simple—is that Wabanaki Tribes deserve to be treated in the same way as other federally-recognized Native nations in the United States. As Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis describes, the mandate of LD 2094 is to “respect and acknowledge the Tribes’ inherent sovereignty consistent with federal Indian Law.”2
Our colonial history, and the benefits that it has secured for settler-descended people at the expense of Wabanaki Tribes, places a moral responsibility on current generations to do our best to seek justice, healing, and the conditions that enable ongoing Wabanaki resurgence and prosperity. Furthermore, it calls for our state government and institutions to honor, respect, and actively support the well-being and self-determination of Wabanaki Tribes.
LD 2094 is one crucial step in these directions. To take this step is to open new possibilities for equitably sharing the land now called Maine. To deny this step is to continue a painful and shameful history of deceit and harm. On behalf of Land in Common’s Board and membership, I ask you to decide in favor of advancing this important legislation.
Organizational Development Coordinator, Land in Common
1 Girouard, Maria L. (2012) The Original Meaning and Intent of the Maine Indian Land Claims: Penobscot Perspectives. Orono: University of Maine, M.A. Thesis.
2 Neptune Adams, Dawn (2020) “‘Carving our own path forward’: An interview with Penobscot Nation Chief Francis” The Beacon, January 27.