Press Herald - The Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes withdrew their representatives to the Maine Legislature on Tuesday in the latest sign of a growing rift in the historically troubled relationship between the sovereign tribes and the state. Related Headlines
Rep. Wayne Mitchell of the Penobscot Nation and Rep. Matthew Dana of the Passamaquoddy Tribe walked off the House chamber floor after lamenting what Dana portrayed as state attempts to perpetuate a “guardian-to-ward relationship” with the tribal nations. Tribal leaders assailed policies they say failed to respect the tribes’ sovereignty, denied members sustenance fishing rights and ignored tribal culture.
“Our hope is that one day the state will recognize us for who we are and value the tribes as sovereign partners and engage in a relationship of mutual respect,” Dana said. “Until then, we simply must decide our own future. If history has taught us anything, it certainly is that lesson.”
Gov. Paul LePage’s office responded that the administration is a willing partner, but said “the tribes have had difficulty working together, and they have not been cooperative in working with the state.”
The Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes have clashed with the LePage administration and with Attorney General Janet Mills over sustenance fishing rights – most notably over access to the lucrative glass eel, or elver, fishery – as well as tribal courts’ authority to prosecute domestic violence committed by non-members on reservation land.
The Penobscot Nation is locked in a power struggle with the LePage administration over water-quality standards in the Penobscot River. Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sided with the tribe and ordered the LePage administration to craft stricter water quality standards to better protect sustenance fishing on the reservation, or else face federal intervention.
Additionally, tensions between the LePage administration and the Passamaquoddy Tribe have been elevated since 2013, when law enforcement officers seized the gear of tribal elver fishermen and the tribe issued three times as many elver fishing licenses as alloted to it by the state.