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Associated Press

Leaders of four tribes in Maine traveled to Washington to testify in favor of a bill that would allow them to benefit from future federal laws despite a state land claims settlement.

Unlike more than 550 federally recognized tribes, tribes in Maine are currently governed by the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 that stipulates they're bound by state law.

Testifying in favor the bill Thursday before a House Natural Resources subcommittee were Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis, Passamaquoddy Indian Township Chief William Nicholas, Micmac Chief Peter Paul and Chief Clarissa Sabattis of the Houlton Band of Maliseets.

Sabattis said that Congress has given other tribes tools to protect citizens, create economic opportunities and provide health care. “We are only asking for the same equal access to these future programs as the other 570 federally recognized tribes have,” she said.

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U.S. Rep. Jared Golden sponsored the bill that would update federal law to put Maine’s Wabanaki tribes on equal footing with other tribes moving forward. A fellow Democrat, Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, is a co-sponsor. Golden said the bill would “cut through unnecessary red tape and bureaucratic efforts” to ensure federal laws in the future would apply to all tribes, including those in Maine.

It was the first time leaders of the four tribes appeared together in Washington to testify on the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement in four decades, said Nick Zeller, spokesperson for Golden.

Nicholas agreed that Maine tribes should benefit from federal laws in an “era of self determination.”

“There is no reason why the Wabanaki nations and their citizens should not benefit from those laws,” he said.

In Maine, a proposal in the Legislature to amend the land claims settlement act will be voted on later this month. If approved, it faces a possible veto by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

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