Penobscot Nation Ready to Terminate Relationship With Maine After Slot Veto

Penobscot Nation Ready to Terminate Relationship With Maine After Slot Veto

4/16/2008
By: Sarah Harris The Penobscot Nation is now ready to sever their relationship with the state after the Maine legislature failed to overturn Governor John Balducci's veto of a bill to allow the Nation to operate slots. According to recent media reports,* Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis stated that the Nation's decision to "go through our tribal process and legislate our own future" is not "just about slots" but the Governor's veto and Legislature's failure to overturn his decision represents the "final nail in the coffin" for Tribal officials. "This relationship's brought us nothing but disappointment," said Francis. On April 15th the Maine legislature passed LD 701, which provided that the Nation could operate 100 slot machines-- down from 400 machines allowed in the original bill-- at its existing Indian Island high-stakes beano facility near Old Town, Maine. Governor Balducci promptly vetoed the legislation, describing his opposition to the expansion of gaming in Maine as "well-documented and unwavering." The Governor stated that expanding gaming "so alters the fabric of the state that all of its citizens, not just the elected members of the legislative and executive branches, deserve an opportunity to be heard." The legislation was introduced in the Legislature, not through a citizen's initiative. The House then took action to overturn the Governor's veto, resulting in a vote of 94-49-- two votes short of the two thirds majority needed to override the veto. "I'm not shocked that he vetoed the bill. I'm just shocked with the kind of dirty pool that happens after that to make sure the veto's upheld," Francis said, citing lobbying and compromising that occurred in order to garner the support needed to uphold the veto. "They worked very hard to clip off our support," said Francis. But Penobscot Nation tribal representative Donna Loring was quick to recognize the importance of those state lawmakers and leaders that remained supportive. Loring stated that both she and Francis felt "it took a lot of guts and a lot of empathy on their part to be willing to do that." This year alone several issues, all of which were very important to the Nation, failed to turn out the way it had hoped and, in some instances, the way lawmakers had assured. For instance, after years of work on nearly thirty proposed changes to the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, only a few were considered for Judiciary Committee review. An additional blow came when funding for the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission's budget was cut by $40,000, approximately 53%, after officials assured the Nation the cut would only be around $2500. Also, attempts by the Nation to expand their reservation to include land already held in trust by the Nation was denied before it ever reached the floor for debate. "This isn't just about slot machines, I know this will come across as strong, but I think it's important that people understand that we've tried," said Francis. "I'm not saying we haven't created some of our own problems over the years, but in the long run when you have to set an agenda to get permission to ask for your tribe's own success you can understand why the tribes get frustrated. We have the same responsibility to our constituents." Francis stated that the Nation's severance of the tribal-state relationship will have very little impact because the Penobscot receive very few resources from the State. Rather, Francis stated that "What are you really losing by continuing to jeopardize your way of life, your culture, the protection of your rivers and lands...that's what I have to weigh." "The tribe, our culture and my responsibility to people have to come first. Without that, there's no more Wabanaki tribes. There's no more Penobscot Nation." * For the statements and quotes summarized in this article, see A. Dolloff, Nation looks to sever ties with state after slot veto, Bangor Daily News (April 17, 2008) (quoting Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis and Tribal Representative Donna Loring extensively).
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