Sovereignty order revoked between State and Native American tribes

Penobscot Chief

Penobscot Nation Chief – Krik Francis (Courtesy of Penobscot Nation)

An executive order issued by Governor Paul LePage has unexpectedly changed the nature of the relationship between the State of Maine and four federally recognized Native American tribes.

On Sat. April 16, Gov. LePage issued an executive order rescinding an order that he issued in 2011 to facilitate cooperation and communication between state government and individual tribes.

The original order, called Recognizing the Special Relationship Between the State of Maine and the Sovereign Native American Tribes Located Within the State, declared that the State of Maine and four federally recognized Native American tribes—the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Penobscot Nation, the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, and the Houlton Band of Maliseets—were to be recognized as sovereign states. The executive order defined the relationship between the state and each individual tribe as “a relationship between equals.”

In that document, LePage ordered that every department and agency in the state government develop a policy to facilitate communication with the tribes, as well as to appoint a Tribal Liaison. The order also stated that every agency should partner with the tribes to utilize existing resources in order to provide services, while taking into account each tribe’s traditions and customs.

LePage rescinded this order on April 16, 2015 with the issuing of Executive Order 2015-006, An Order Respecting Joint Sovereignty and Interdependence.

Similarly to the original order, the new document begins by recognizing the sovereignty of both the state and individual tribes and the relationship between them, but then adds that all tribe members and the land and natural resources they own are subject to the laws and criminal jurisdiction of the State. The order states that LePage’s previous efforts to promote cooperation with the tribes has “proved to be unproductive because the State of Maine’s interests have not been respected in the ongoing relationship between sovereigns.” These interests include fisheries management, child welfare, and domestic violence jurisdiction.

According to The Portland Press Herald, tribes were notified of the change via email on Saturday. According to a statement from the 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. They often prefer to work with the federal government, rather than with the State. The Governor is still interested in a good relationship with the Tribes, but it must be a two-way street.”

Chief of the Penobscot Nation Kirk Francis was unable to be reached for comment, but according to an editorial in The Portland Press Herald on April 23, he said, “I don’t understand the value of the governor of the state taking the time to revoke such an order. It does nothing but fuel an already volatile relationship.”

According to The Portland Press Herald, tribal leaders in the state said that the effects of the new executive order will be primarily symbolic, as the original order to promote communication between tribes and the state “had gone largely unimplemented.” On Tuesday, April 28, The Morning Sentinel published an opinion piece submitted by a member of the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe who said that LePage’s action was abrupt and hurtful to the tribes.

According to a poll conducted by WABI, a televised news station that services eastern and central Maine, 55 percent of the total 691 respondents said they agreed with Governor LePage’s decision to rescind his executive order, while 45 percent disagreed as of April 27. WABI did not specify how the poll was conducted.

On a local level, LePage’s order happened to come three days after representatives from several Native American tribes in Maine met with the Skowhegan School Board to discuss the future of the Skowhegan Area High School mascot, the Indian.

The executive order has brought many voices to the table regarding the relationship between Native American tribes and the State of Maine, which have shared a long, volatile history. Copies of each of the documents are available online through The Portland Press Herald.

Comments are closed.