Proposal would create a new state-recognized tribe in Maine

A bill that would grant state recognition for a second band of Maliseets is running into opposition from leaders of other tribes, who say a lack of a formal standard for tribal recognition is a recipe for trouble

AUGUSTA, Maine -- A bill that would grant state recognition for a second band of Maliseet Indians is running into opposition from leaders of other tribes, who say a lack of a formal standard for tribal recognition is a recipe for trouble.

Former Houlton Band of Maliseets tribal Rep. David Slagger is seeking state recognition for the Kineo Band of Maliseet, which derives its name from 1,788-foot (545-meter) mountain on a peninsula in Moosehead Lake.

A previous effort in 2012 stalled after some of the state’s federally recognized tribes opposed it, fearing the loss of federal funds, according to the Bangor Daily News. This time, those tribes are once again opposed.

A letter signed by all five tribal chiefs, including Chief Clarissa Sabattis of the Houlton Band of Maliseets, argues that the state lacks a process for state recognition. Absent that, it's unclear where the bar would be set for state recognition and people without indigenous ancestry could potentially gain access to services and exploit their culture, they wrote.

“The individuals attempting to subvert a real process for recognition of a tribe are undermining the hard work that the valid tribes are doing to help increase recognition of sovereignty and help our people in our reservation communities,” Penobscot Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana wrote.

The bill's prospects are uncertain.

Across the country, only 13 states offer their own recognition of tribes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The debate comes as the tribes face another battle to rework their relationship with the state.

The Judiciary Committee made a historic decision last year to support an effort aimed at restoring tribal sovereignty in Maine, but lawmakers adjourned because of the pandemic.

Donna Loring, retired tribal affairs adviser to Gov. Janet Mills, says she believes a sovereignty deal can be reached.

"Until there’s an agreement on sovereignty, there will be no progress because there will be no trust,” she told the Portland Press Herald.