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Commission documents humanitarian crisis faced by Wabanaki tribes
STATEWIDE — Responding to a request from UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya, the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission (MITSC) recently submitted a 14-page letter and 21 documents supplementing its original filing of May 16, 2012 asserting that the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (MICSA) and Maine Implementing Act (MIA) “have created structural inequities that have resulted in conditions that have risen to the level of human rights violations.” The MITSC’s August 8 filing with the UN Special Rapporteur states “certain provisions of the legislation… align closely with tribal termination provisions.” The Commission adds “[t]he ways in which these provisions have been interpreted by state and federal courts constitute the partial termination of tribal self-governance and thus the tribes’ ability to provide for the protection of natural resources, the provision of an economic base, and preservation of their unique cultures.”
“For more than two years, the MITSC has thoroughly researched what impacts the MICSA and MIA are having on the Wabanaki Tribes within the State of Maine today consistent with our charge to 'continually review the effectiveness of this Act [Maine Implementing Act],'" said Jamie Bissonette Lewey, MITSC Chair. “What we found is for many key indicators of community health conditions have deteriorated for the Maliseets, Micmacs, Passamaquoddies, and Penobscots since MIA and MICSA took effect in 1980. Specific provisions in MIA and MICSA are causing this structural oppression.”
The MITSC filing cites two formal State of Maine investigations into the effects of the Maine Implementing Act on the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Passamaquoddy Tribe, and Penobscot Indian Nation, several state and federal court cases, letters, its own policy position statement on river herring restoration in the St. Croix River, and health advisories warning against consuming fish and game due to toxic contamination as evidence to support its conclusions. The MITSC responded to UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya’s question asking how “the MICSA and MIA framework severely limits Wabanaki tribes in Maine with regard to economic self-development, cultural preservation and the protection of natural resources in tribal territories.”
The MIA and MICSA comprise laws enacted by the State of Maine and US to complete the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Agreement in response to a lawsuit filed by the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Penobscot Nation in 1972. During the latter stages of the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot negotiations with the State of Maine and the US, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians became involved. The Aroostook Band of Micmacs has a separate settlement agreement with the US enacted by Congress in 1991.
The MITSC submitted its original letter to UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya in response to his request for information as part of his first official country visit to the US. Representatives of MITSC and the Wabanaki Tribes met with Mr. Anaya and members of his support staff on May 16, 2012 at the United Nations in New York City to allow him to hear from Tribal citizens directly and to present information on the systemic human rights violations occurring due to specific provisions of MICSA and MIA. In his final report on his official visit to the US, Mr. Anaya finds that the “Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act and Maine Implementing Act create structural inequalities that limit the self-determination of Maine tribes; structural inequalities contribute to Maine tribal members experiencing extreme poverty, high unemployment, short life expectancy, poor health, limited educational opportunities and diminished economic development.”
“MIA and MICSA are not working. No Tribe negotiates to deepen its People’s poverty. Provisions included in the MIA and MICSA designed to provide flexibility have been either blocked or unused. Unilateral interpretations of the Acts by the Office of the Maine Attorney General and state and federal courts contrary to the process that produced the laws have magnified the inequities of MIA and MICSA. As the nation states of the world and the United Nations recognize today as International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Maine and the US can truly honor the meaning of this day by addressing the structural problems in MIA and MICSA causing a human rights crisis for the Wabanaki Tribes within the State of Maine,” stated Jamie Bissonette Lewey.
MITSC consists of an equal number of representatives from three of the Wabanaki Tribes, the Maliseets, Passamaquoddies, and Penobscots, and the State of Maine with the 12 Commissioners electing a 13th member as chair. Besides continually reviewing the effectiveness of the Maine Implementing Act (30 MRSA §6201 - §6214), it is also charged with monitoring “the social, economic and legal relationship between the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Nation and the State.”
Professor James Anaya fulfills his duties as Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples under a mandate of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Human Rights Council resolution 15/14 authorizes and requests the Special Rapporteur to "examine ways and means of overcoming existing obstacles to the full and effective protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, in conformity with his/her mandate, and to identify, exchange and promote best practices." To learn more about the responsibilities and work of the Special Rapporteur, go to http://unsr.jamesanaya.org.