Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 Could See Changes

Last week Maine lawmakers took steps to consider changing the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980. The deal views the state’s native tribes differently than federal law does other Native American communities across the country.

Tribal leaders have claimed that by limiting their ability to run tribal casinos, the state has impeded the ability of their communities to develop their economic conditions. They have voiced their grievances over the state allowing hundreds of millions of dollars to go to the two casinos operating corporations in the state.

Michael-Corey Hinton, attorney for the Passamaquoddy Tribe said: “We’re not here for casinos. That’s not what we’re here for. We are here to restore our sovereignty and our ability to self-govern. Under federal law, that would include the right to the game.”

State legislators heard testimony for the second day on Wednesday concerning 22 measures that could potentially change the 40-year-old arrangement between the state and the Penobscot Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Maliseet Indians’ Houlton Band. Such guidelines will grant the tribes more power on topics such as taxes, land use, natural resource management, and tribal lands criminal prosecution.

The plans have been push backed, as it worries industry groups that this could lead to stricter environmental regulations. The Bangor Hollywood Casino also opposes changes to current laws, claiming that it would rob the state of its current casino revenues.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills warned that changing the bill could lead to “extensive litigation.” State lawmakers are expected in the coming days to continue hearing testimony about this matter.

Many proposals were put before voters to grant the tribes permission to run the operations. Each has failed, as did bills before the state legislature. Another such example was a bill introduced to authorise the Passamaquoddy tribe to open a casino in March, 2019. Nevertheless, the bill was strongly opposed by commercial casino operators, and was not accepted.

This loss followed a 2017 referendum in which voters rejected an unprecedented 83% majority allowing the tribe to develop a casino. The Maliseet Indians ‘ Houlton Band has tried to bring matters to the Maine Supreme Court, but it has denied hearing arguments on the matter.