A thoughtful column in the Bangor Daily News by Cassandra Cousins Wright.
This July Fourth, we celebrate our freedom as memorialized in the Declaration of Independence. Our ancestors declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” While we celebrate securing these rights for ourselves as settlers, we ignore what we have done to our allies the Wabanaki people, the original people of this land, who helped us to secure these rights.
The Wabanaki flourished in what we recognize as Maine. The many distinct people who once called this area home have been reduced to four federally recognized tribes: the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Nation. The four resilient, surviving tribes battle the state government every day to live free as their beliefs, cultures, values, spirituality, traditions and ancestors inform them to live. Why does Maine and the United States withhold from them what we declared 241 years ago as the inherent rights of all human beings?
Chiefs and Tribal leaders from each of the federally recognized Wabanaki Tribes gathered at the State House Thursday. They participated in a legislative briefing by the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission. Lawmakers in Augusta heard from representatives of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, and the Penobscot Indian Nation.
They discussed their Tribes’ frustrations with the Federal Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980. Tribe members tell us this act was meant to acknowledge Wabanaki sovereignty but over the years has been somewhat lost in translation.
“There’s a lot of things that get affected by decisions that are made across the state, and when those decisions get made, they affect everybody, including the tribes. We’re a sovereign nation and we want to be treated as a sovereign nation. And we just want to be left alone. We’re not asking anybody for anything. We never have. We’ve just had to come to this session many times in the state house because that’s what’s required by the act. But there’s not mutual understanding- I guess you could say- about what that act means,” said Chief William Nicholas, Passamaquoddy Tribe.
“The biggest thing that affects the Aroostook Band of Micmacs is that we didn’t have a seat at the table. So the Micmacs are being held to an agreement that we weren’t a party to. It has to deal with due process and we didn’t get our due process,” said Chief Edward Peter Paul, Aroostook Band of Micmacs.
Their hope is to educate lawmakers and the public on the how sovereign rights of these tribes have been largely pushed aside and ignored.
Original article on WABI Channel 5.