Maine Gov. Paul LePage released an executive order on April 16 that spoke about sovereignty in the first sentence, but was quickly overshadowed by the 180-degree turn to suggest the state has dominance over the four federally recognized tribes.
ICTMN reached out to the Governor for further clarification on his executive order and he responded by quoting the order or directing questions to Attorney General Janet Mills.
The attorney general did not respond to the questions, but Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis promptly shared his thoughts on the governor’s remarks.
The questions and comments revolve around LePage’s April 16 EO, called “An Order Respecting Joint Sovereignty and Interdependence,” of which ICTMN has obtained a copy. The current document rescinds an August 2011 EO, called “Recognizing the Special Relationship Between the State of Maine and the Sovereign Native American Tribes Located Within the State of Maine.”
The three year-old EO recognized the “special relationship” between the State of Maine and the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Penobscot Nation, the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, and the Houlton Band of Maliseets. The order also created a consultation policy for tribal input before laws, rules and policies affecting them are passed.
The new executive order begins with three “whereas” statements recognizing the Maine’s sovereignty, the tribes’ sovereignty and the relationship between the state and tribes as one “between equals, each with its own set of responsibilities.”
The document then takes a 180-degree turn, asserting the state’s dominance over the tribes – in effect, denying the sovereignty that is affirmed in the first statements – and even over tribal lands held in trust by the federal government. “Whereas, all tribe members, Indian nations, and tribes or bands in the State of Maine and any lands or natural resources owned by them or held in trust for them are subject to the laws of the state and to the civil and criminal jurisdiction of the courts of the State to the same extent as any other persons or lands or natural resources therein.”
The final “whereas” statement blames the tribes for failed attempts at collaboration and communication with the state. Efforts by the governor to promote collaboration and communication were ”unproductive because the State of Maine’s interests were not respected in the ongoing relationship between sovereigns,” LePage wrote.
ICTMN sent the following six questions for clarification. Peter Steele, director of communications responded quickly and then Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis was asked to comment on the governor’s responses.
What prompted this executive order?
Governor’s office: Efforts by the Governor on behalf of the State of Maine to promote collaboration and communication with the tribes have proved unproductive because the State of Maine’s interests have not been respected in the ongoing relationships between the state and the tribes.
Chief Francis: I would just say I have no idea what this means. Maine’s interest is one thing, imposing their view based on that interest is quite another. The Stafford Act, Violence Against Women Act, the Tribal Law and Order Act, gaming, fishing, water quality, removal from our river and reservation -- these are all issues and many more that have been blocked in the “interest of the State.” There has been no respect of the tribal rights within these things. He is simply upset over the increased federal presence on our issues [referring to the federal government’s lawsuit against the state over tribal fishing rights and more recent developments over water quality].
Could you please clarify your position on tribal sovereignty?
Governor’s office: The Governor’s position has not changed: The Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Penobscot Nation, the Aroostook Band of Micmacs and the Houlton Band of Maliseets are sovereigns in their own right. The relationship between the State of Maine and the individual tribes is a relationship between equals, each with its own set of responsibilities.
Chief Francis: “In our own right … equals” – then why does he pretend to have authority over our sovereignty? The mere fact of this EO tells you he thinks it is something he can take away.
What rights, in your opinion, do sovereign Indian nations have?
Governor’s office: Any questions about legal rights of sovereigns must be submitted to the Attorney General’s office.
Chief Francis: If he doesn’t know then what’s he talking about when he says “sovereign” and “equals”?
Could you please clarify exactly what rights you are saying in your executive order that the state has over tribal lands and waters? For example, the right to regulate hunting and fishing? Water quality standards? Building permits?
Governor’s office: Any lands or natural resources owned by the tribes or held in trust are subject to the laws of the state and to the civil and criminal jurisdiction of the courts of the state to the same extent as any other person or lands or natural resources. Any other questions about legal rights must be submitted to the Attorney General’s office.
Chief Francis: This is simply not factual. The Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act provides for a whole host of internal authority and rights on our lands. The state simply does not want to acknowledge them.
On what basis – legal or otherwise – can the State of Maine claim authority over Indian lands held in trust by the federal government?
Governor’s office: Again, any legal questions must be submitted to the Attorney General’s office.
Chief Francis: They can’t, only to the extent of implementing new acts of Congress within those territories that either preempt state jurisdiction or are not internal tribal matters. There doesn’t leave much that doesn’t qualify as internal within these territories.
What do you see as the next step in the relationship between the state and the tribes?
Governor’s office: The Governor had hoped his 2011 Executive Order would have improved the relationship between the state and the tribes. Since then, the tribes have had difficulty working together, and they have not been cooperative in working with the state. The Governor is still interested in a good relationship with the tribes, but it must be a two-way street.
Chief Francis: Again, what the heck is he talking about, specifically? The tribes get along just fine, and if the AG would stop attacking that would be helpful. The tribes have no authority over the state and theirs is illegally assumed. I agree it has to be a two-way street but that relationship will always undoubtedly have disagreement. You cannot just continue to say, “No,” and “It’s our way,” and expect everyone to be the good subservient Indians. In others words “do as we say” is their view of productivity. I am also interested in a good relationship with the state – for tribal people that’s our ultimate hope. I don’t think the state appreciates the stress, emotion and discomfort this relationship has caused and nothing would mean more to us than existing peacefully and productively with the state, but if the starting line for that is their view always rules and our self-governing rights only go as far as that view, this will simply never ever work. As leaders we take oaths and have a responsibility to that oath to protect our people, lands and resources as our ancestors have mandated. Having our Nation governed by others in any other way violates that mandate and responsibility.