On October 12, we will again commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day here in Belfast and in the entire state of Maine. I am proud that this day is commemorated, but also well aware of how arrogant it must seem to offer one day of recognition to the peoples who have been here for over 10,000 years — and to whom we owe a debt we can never repay for their care, leadership and guardianship of the lands and waters that were stolen from them, this beautiful place we all call home.

And still the state of Maine continues not to recognize the inherent sovereignty of Maine’s First Peoples, a recognition that all other tribes in the nation have. Since 1980, when the Federal Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act and the corresponding state implementing act were enacted, the tribes have been under state law rather than federal Indian law. This essentially means the state retains the power to deny treaty rights to the tribes and acts as if the tribes are not sovereign at all, but rather municipal subdivisions of the state, subject to state oversight without representation.

Sovereignty is an inherent right; it is not something that can be granted. The Penobscot Nation, Passamaquoddy Tribe and Houlton Band of Maliseets have once again been put on hold, despite 16 months of work by a government task force made up of both legislative representatives and Native representatives working out a framework that would finally grant the tribes their status under federal Indian law and thus reassert their inherent sovereignty, making them equal to all other tribes in 49 states.

There are three bills that have come out of this collaborative effort, the central one being LD 2094. The task force and the majority of the judiciary committee have agreed on the bill, and now the Mills administration is equivocating, indicating that they may not be open to considering amendments to the Maine Implementing Act. The vote on LD 2094 has been put on hold due to the Legislature’s adjournment in mid-March because of the coronavirus.

Don’t let this travesty continue. Our representatives need to hear from us. This is something we can do. As Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis stated, “For 40 years, we’ve been unable to have a meaningful voice in effecting change to address real conditions in Indian territory in Maine.”

Make this a meaningful Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Act. Write, call and demand change in the implementing act and passage of LD 2094.

First, vote. Then demand full recognition of sovereignty for the First Peoples of Maine. We want a vote in 2020. Support the Wabanaki Alliance.

Meredith Bruskin, Swanville