With the legislature set to adjourn by the end of the month, one of the last remaining pieces of business lawmakers are considering is a bill that would allow Maine’s Native American tribes to benefit from federal laws that apply to other indigenous communities in the U.S.
Unlike most of the State Legislature’s business this year, which has fallen predictably along partisan lines, the tribal sovereignty issue has pit the Democratic-controlled legislature against Democrat Gov. Janet Mills.
Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook), House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland), and most Democratic legislators support the tribes’ push for some kind of sovereignty legislation.
But Mills has for decades opposed efforts by the tribes to change legislation from the 1980 Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act, passed by Maine and ratified by the U.S. Congress, that controls how the tribes can benefit from federal legislation. That law essentially makes Maine the middleman between the federal government and the tribes, which the tribes say has caused a host of problems for them.
When tribal representatives gathered at the State House for the first “State of the Tribes” event in nearly two decades, Mills was one of the only prominent elected officials to skip the event, and her absence was viewed as a deliberate snub to the tribes.
Mills has also spoken out against a federal bill from U.S. Rep Jared Golden that would allow tribes in Maine to be treated like other Native American tribes.
Earlier this year, it appeared as if Talbot Ross would be able to bring enough Republican votes to her side to overturn Mills expected veto of a tribal bill.
LD 2004, the bill in question, is co-sponsored by Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin), Sen. Rick Bennett (R-Oxford), House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor), and Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris).
However, when Democrats pulled an elaborate parliamentary maneuver to ram through a partisan budget at the end of March, most Republicans lost their appetite for striking bipartisan deals with the majority party.
With the current legislative session drawing to a close, Talbot Ross has renewed her push for LD 2004, and State House sources say some Republicans are back on board.
Whether the House and Senate actually send Mills a bill to veto remains to be seen, but the governor’s sharp opposition to helping the tribes — in an era when diversity, equity, and inclusion programs appear to have taken over the Democratic Party — has left some of her liberal supporters scratching their heads.
Some commenters at the liberal Press Herald have taken to calling Mills “Great White Mother,” a reference to America’s racist paternalism towards the tribes in the 19th century.
“Dear Great White Mother, You are, as always, so kind and approachable. Your capacity for stonewalling while smiling is remarkable. With you as a mother we never have to confront reality and we get to consider ourselves as such good people. Thanks so much for keeping us white and glowing,” posted one commenter.
“Dear Wabanaki folk,
Should you feel a need for discussion and possible negotiation over some matter that rankles you, please do not hesitate to give us a call. Perhaps, after lengthy negotiations with our expert legal team something can be worked out whereby no one concedes anything. That would be lovely don’t you think? Remember – your well being is, as always, utmost in our minds Hoping you are enjoying this fine spring weather.
Great White Mother.”
“Janet is liberated by hitting the term limit for being Governor she now can afford the luxury of entertaining her prejudice against Maine’s Native Americans. She is certainly not acting like the Governor a large majority of the voters thought they were electing and more like the troll she defeated. Maine might as well be Mississippi when it comes to clinging to laws that discriminate against a minority,” another said.