AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Native Americans sang, beat drums and implored lawmakers and the governor to grant them full sovereignty as the legislative session drew rapidly to a close Wednesday.
Two of the three bills dealing with tribal sovereignty were in jeopardy before being given new life when the Legislature agreed to extend the session by another day, allowing more time for review.
“Never give up. It is worth every minute of effort to fight for what you believe are your inherent rights,” said Ernie Neptune, vice chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point.
With tribal rights on the line, the Wabanaki Alliance and allies rallied outside the State House on Wednesday, the second time in less than two weeks.
The Legislature already enacted a bill that would give the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point control over its drinking water, opening the door to greater sovereignty rights. The language was later tweaked to meet with the governor's approval.
But two other bills were pending further action in the Senate. They were placed on the appropriations table along with other bills that needed further review before a final vote.
The most sweeping of the measures would amend the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 to ensure tribal members in the state have the same rights as the nation’s other tribes.
Another bill, sponsored by the governor, would funnel money from mobile sports gambling to the tribes.
Darrell Newell, vice chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township, said it's time to restore rights that were given under the 1980 settlement, which treated reservations as municipalities, not sovereign nations.
“It was a terrible mistake that was made 40 years ago, and we’ve been trying to undo it ever since," Newell said.
Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, urged lawmakers and the governor to avoid history repeating itself like in years past when native rights were trampled.
“Let us consider at this moment our place in history. What will our grandchildren say about this moment, this year, this decade, when we have the opportunity to do right. Will we meet the test of history?” he said.