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Maine State-Tribal Commission Raises Human Rights Concerns with United Nations
08/14/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

A state-tribal relations commission is raising concerns that enforcement of the Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 is violating the human rights of the state's Native Americans. The law, signed by former President Jimmy Carter in 1980, gave the tribes more than $80 million, and offered them federal recognition.* In return, the tribes agreed to abide by Maine's laws. But in a recent letter to a United Nations official, the tribes say the arrangement has been enforced and interpreted in a way that has violated the human rights of Maine's Wabanaki people. Jay Field reports.

Related Media
Maine Tribes: Indian Land Claims Settlement Act E Listen
 Duration:
2:47

* See Editor's Note below

James Anaya is the guy at the UN whose job is to make sure that the human rights of indigenous people are being respected around the world. He's the UN's Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people. And in May of last year, he traveled to New York from his home in Europe and met with top tribal leaders from Maine.

John Dieffenbacher-Krall is with the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission. "We asserted that the situation that the indigenous peoples of Maine face rises to the level of human rights violations," he says. "This July, Mr. Anaya requested additional information from us."

Dieffenbacher-Krall says Anaya wanted specific examples of how the federal Indian Claims Settlement Act and a state law were discriminating against Maine's tribes. So the commission drafted a 14-page letter, which it filed with the UN last week.

Dieffenbacher Krall says that under the Indian Claims Settlement Act and the Maine statute that implements the federal law, "the tribes are subject to state control," which, he says, has blocked the tribes from achieving the kind of economic development that would lift more of their people out of poverty.

"Efforts by the tribes to develop facilities have been stymied because of state assertion of its control," he says. "The tribes' ability to take advantage of natural resources that they've depended on for thousands of years to sustain their people - I'm talking about fishing, hunting and gathering - they are restricted from protecting those resources from pollution."

Dieffenbacher-Krall says the commission has forwarded the letter it sent the UN to legislative leaders in Maine and the offices of Gov. Paul LePage and Attorney General Janet Mills. He says the commission has been talking with the legislative and the executive branches about changing provisions of the Maine law that implements the Indian Claims Settlement Act.

Rep. Charles Priest, a Brunswick Democrat, is co-chair of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee. He says it's possible that the state could take some action. "Obviously, the state could pass laws to try to change some of the aspects of the Indian Land Claims Settlement Act," he says.

But Priest says Maine would likely have to defer to Washington before moving in that direction. "I think that any basic change would have to go through Congress," he says.

And Priest says he thinks Congress would be very cautious about making any changes to the Indian  Claims Settlment Act, a law that took years to negotiate before it finally arrived on President Carter's desk.


*Editor's Note: After this story aired, John Dieffenbacher Krall, executive director of MITSC, wrote to clarify in more detail the terms of the Land Claims Settlement Act:

"Two of the four Wabanaki Tribes within the State of Maine, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Indian Nation, received $81.5 million from the federal government. The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians received no money from the federal government. The $900,000 they received for land acquisition came from the proceeds of the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s and Penobscot Nation’s settlement. The Aroostook Band of Micmacs were not a party to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement agreement, though certain provisions of the federal and state acts apply to them. Separate legislation was passed by Congress in 1991 pertaining to the Micmacs. The Micmacs received $900,000 in the Aroostook Band of Micmacs Settlement. The Passamaquoddy Tribe and Penobscot Nation were federally recognized five years previous to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (MICSA) due to the U.S. District Court and 1 st Circuit Court of Appeals decisions in Passamaquoddy v. Morton. Federal recognition was conferred on the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians in MICSA. The Aroostook Band of Micmacs were federally recognized in the Aroostook Band of Micmacs Settlement." -John Dieffenbacher-Krall.

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