The Coastal Packet: Circling the wagons

Thursday, May 28

Circling the wagons

Donna Loring, Portland Press Herald - "Circle the wagons!” is a phrase I learned watching the old western movies on TV when I was a kid. It was uttered to protect the white people – who were moving west (to steal Indian land) – from those vicious savages.

The savages were to be eliminated in any way possible because they were an impediment to white progress. No thought was given to the fact that the Indian people were actual human beings with families and a need to preserve their own way of life.

This legislative session, I’ve listened to Judiciary Committee public hearing testimony on five Indian bills:

• L.D. 239, a proposal to create a permanent Wabanaki law enforcement seat on the board of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

• L.D. 267, a proposal to implement the recommendations of the Maine-Wabanaki State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

• L.D. 268, a proposal to give tribal courts jurisdiction over cases involving Indian women who are physically abused by non-Indian men.

• L.D. 893, requiring the state to print the section of the state constitution outlining Maine’s obligations toward Indian tribes under a 1794 treaty with Massachusetts.

• L.D. 1094, a proposal to recognize the governmental powers of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Penobscot Nation.

The thought of “Circle the wagons!” came to mind. The committee circled the wagons on every single bill. There was no way any of those Indian bills were going to make it through committee. I know this because I was a committee member representing the Penobscot Nation in the Legislature for nine years. I know how things work.

The awful truth is these committee members see the tribes as foreigners (a nation within a nation) or even just the enemy impeding the state’s progress.

They are trying to do the right thing, but they were never educated in tribal-state relations. They know nothing about the Indian Claims Settlement Act, and yet they are expected to make policy decisions on that document. It’s like asking a carpenter to do heart surgery.

... I wondered if these committee members knew anything of the tribes’ contribution to this state and our country. The years of loyalty the tribes have given them are extraordinary in and of themselves.

.... Maine tribes are being kept in poverty by the ignorance of our policymakers in Augusta. They don’t seem to want to learn about the tribes except via the Maine Attorney General’s Office, which has done everything in its power to isolate us from society.

We are not foreigners in our own land. We are not the enemy. Stop circling the wagons. We have earned our citizenship.

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