Senator Carney, Representative Harnett, and members of the Judiciary Committee. I am Lisa Pohlmann, the CEO at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and I appreciate the opportunity to testify in support of LD 1626, An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act.
NRCM believes that the time has come for the Legislature to recognize the sovereignty of the Wabanaki as a matter of dignity, respect, and honor of inherent rights. We reach this conclusion after decades of collaboration with representatives of Maine’s tribes on a range of environmental issues.
NRCM has worked closely with Maine tribes on the landmark Penobscot River Restoration Project, legislation that restored fish passage for alewives on the St. Croix River, the law and regulations that protect Maine from mining pollution, legislation to reduce toxic pollution to Maine rivers and protect sustenance fishing in tribal waters, and increased protections for hundreds of miles of Maine’s rivers and streams.
NRCM deeply values these collaborative efforts with Maine’s tribes. We have learned enormously from these relationships. Working with Maine’s tribes has been among the most meaningful experiences that our staff have had in their professional careers.
Passage of LD 1626 would provide Maine tribes with the rights and responsibilities of regulating natural resources and land use within the boundaries of Indian territory or trust lands to the extent provided in federal Indian law.
This change would mean that Maine’s environmental and natural resource laws would no longer apply on Tribal lands, and federal laws would provide the minimum regulatory framework of environmental safeguards.
We support this transfer of responsibilities. Based on our experiences, we have come to understand and respect the deep sense of stewardship held by Maine tribes toward the natural resources that sustain life. We believe Maine’s tribes will bring this stewardship ethic to the task of managing natural resources within their jurisdictions. We would be surprised if the Tribes departed in any significant way from the high standards of environmental protection established by Maine’s environmental laws and regulations. Indeed, we would assume that the level of respect and care for these natural resources would exceed Maine’s state standards.
With recognition of tribal sovereignty, the tribes may seek federal resources to increase their capacity to assume the range or responsibilities that come with the task of managing the natural resources within their jurisdictions.
Collaborative agreements may be required between Maine’s natural resource agencies and the tribal natural resource departments. Additional staff, resources, and capacity-building may be helpful. But these follow-on implementation steps can be addressed after the first important step of recognizing tribal sovereignty has been taken. And that is what the Legislature can and, we believe, should do by passing LD 1626.
Thanks for the opportunity to provide these comments, and I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.