Tribal leaders tell tale of the push for sovereignty in new podcast created in Maine
Decades after a settlement law in Maine empowered Indigenous peoples to potentially buy land but took away many rights from them, a new podcast from Maine, told through interviews with Wabanaki tribal leaders, explains the circumstances of a long campaign for self-governance, which can finally be achieved in 2022.
“Sovereign,” a four-episode podcast, was released as state lawmakers prepare to review a bill that could restore the autonomy of the tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy.
The bill, LD 1626, would amend a state law passed 41 years ago and restore the right of the Passamaquoddy tribe, the Penobscot nation and the Houlton band of Maliseet Indians to self-government in their respective territories. , just like the 570 others recognized by the federal government. tribes in 49 states of the United States
Along with three fellow students, podcast co-producer Sarah Esocoff directed “Sovereign” while studying at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies, a branch of Maine College of Art in Portland. She thinks everyone in Maine should know more about tribal pressure for self-reliance.
“People should listen to the indigenous peoples who are speaking out on this and the indigenous activists who are trying to make change,” Esocoff said.
“Sovereign” is an attempt to help this effort.
For decades, tribal leaders have called the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act a “colossal failure.”
Among the tribal chiefs interviewed for the podcast is Darren Ranco, who teaches federal Native American law at the University of Maine at Orono, where he is chair of Native American programs and coordinator of Native American research.
“The more educated people are on these issues, the more likely we are to resolve public policy dilemmas,” Ranco said. “The Settlement Act is one of them. “
The Federal Regulations Act and accompanying state law have been in effect since 1980. The regulations came after the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Nation made a land claim in the 1970s involving an estimated nine million people. ‘acres within the borders of Maine.
Led by Governor James Longley, state officials pushed back on land claims. Longley accused the native tribes of “economic blackmail” that could “harm innocent citizens of Maine” and of driving a cultural divide in the state.
“It’s both infuriating and almost laughable to think of it in those terms,” Ranco said.
As legal proceedings continued and officials discussed a settlement, Longley opposed the federal payment to the tribes, according to a BDN report in 1978. But President Jimmy Carter was eager to strike a deal that would work for the tribes. for the tribes and for Maine, and any negotiation would need federal approval.
As the Carter administration drew to a close and newly elected President Ronald Reagan was unsympathetic to native tribes, tribal leaders signed off on the deeds of colonization. The state put $ 81.5 million in a trust for indigenous peoples to buy back a small fraction of their original land.
In return, the Settlement Acts gave the state jurisdiction over the tribes within the borders of Maine. They also included a clause that protected the pact from being affected by federal laws, meaning the Wabanaki tribes would be bound by the 1980 settlement even if US policy toward Native Americans changed in the future.
But times are changing.
In 2020, a bipartite working group composed of tribal chiefs, lawmakers and state officials released a report with recommendations to restore tribal autonomy on a range of issues, such as taxation, hunting and fishing rights and prosecution crimes on tribal lands. It would also amend existing law to ensure that tribes would enjoy “rights, privileges, powers, duties and immunities” similar to those of other federally recognized tribes.
After momentum was slowed by the pandemic and talks ended with Governor Janet Mills, LD 1626 was introduced at the start of the last legislative session and will be reconsidered in January.
Isaac Kestenbaum, director of the Salt Institute, said podcasts offer listeners a new path to complex issues in narrative journalism, which is ideal for topics such as tribal sovereignty in Maine.
“The average genre demands propulsive and compelling stories, and it’s very intimate, as a lot of people listen through their headphones,” Kestenbaum said.
The four students in the inaugural podcasting class chose the topic collaboratively, studying with Robert Smith of National Public Radio. They consulted Maulian Dana, Tribal Ambassador of the Penobscot Nations, on some language and description issues, as the students were from out of state and none were Native Americans.
For example, Kestenbaum said that one thing that came up during these consultations was the use of the possessive – as in the question “What do the tribes of Maine want?” Dana pointed out that this language is flawed, Kestenbaum recalled, because calling them “tribes of Maine” implies that the communities belong to the state, which is precisely at odds with the question of sovereignty.
“If you’re not sensitive to this you might not have noticed it, but it’s the kind of little thing we wanted to fix,” Kestenbaum said.