House votes to give tribes in Maine benefits of federal law

The U.S. House approved a bill that would allow Native American tribes bound by a state land claims settlement in Maine to get the benefit from federal laws going forward.

The proposal, attached to a defense bill approved Thursday, won’t change how the tribes are treated under state law but would update federal law to allow future laws passed by Congress to apply to the tribes.

Rep. Jared Golden, who introduced the bill, said tribes in Maine deserve the same benefits as other federally recognized tribes under federal law.

“What these tribes want is what all communities in my district want — economic opportunity for their families and safer, healthier communities,” the Maine Democrat said in a statement. A fellow Democrat, Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

The proposal faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

Chief Kirk Francis of the Penobscot Nation said in a statement Friday that tribal members “look forward to working with our senators on getting final passage through Congress this year.”

Wabanaki tribes in Maine are governed by the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980, which stipulates they’re bound by state law. That sets them apart from the other 570 federally recognized tribes.

“After forty years, it is well past time for Congress to alter the settlement act to ensure that our people receive equal treatment under federal law as other native people,” said Chief Clarissa Sabattis of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians .

Both chambers of the Maine Legislature advanced a bill to amend the land claims settlement to restore rights that tribes forfeited, but it stalled under a threat of veto from Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

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