Treatment of Wabanaki Questioned
Episcopal Committee files human rights record critique with UN

by Gale Courey Toensing
Indian Country Today
26 April 2010

PORTLAND, Maine – The Episcopal Diocese of Maine Committee on Indian Relations has filed a hard-hitting critique with the United Nations Human Rights Council on Maine’s human rights record against the Wabanaki nations and the federal government’s failure to rein in state violations of domestic and international laws and standards meant to protect indigenous peoples.

The U.S. government’s human rights record is currently under assessment in a process called the Universal Periodic Review, which was created by the U.N. General Assembly in 2006 as a mechanism by which the human rights records of all 192 U.N. member states are reviewed every four years.

The committee’s report to the UPR is the latest action in its robust program of social justice activism.

After three years of groundwork initiated by committee member John Dieffenbacker-Krall, the national Episcopal Church last summer passed a landmark resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery and urging the U.S. government to endorse the Declaration. Other churches have since passed similar resolutions.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted the UNDRIP in 2007. Of the four nations that voted against the Declaration, only the U.S. and Canada still have not endorsed the human rights-based Declaration. Australia endorsed it last year and New Zealand announced its limited endorsement at the Ninth Session of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues April 19.

This is the committee’s first interaction with the U.N., said Dieffenbacker-Krall, who is the executive director of the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission.

“We have a strong feeling of the need to be in solidarity with the Wabanaki people.” The Wabanaki include the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the Houlton Band of Maliseets, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Indian Nation.

The opportunity to file the UPR report coincided with the committee’s completion of its new mission statement: “We are called by our Creator to deepen our relationship with the Wabanaki of Maine in order to stand with them in the pursuit of justice, the affirmation of their inherent sovereignty, and the preservation of Native languages and culture.”

Among the committee’s recommendations is the adoption of the Declaration “without any qualifying statements or conditions limiting its original intent.” Other recommends are that:

  • The U.S. government “expunge” the Doctrine of Discovery from all regulations, policies, statutes and case law that rely on it, citing in particular the 1823 supreme court ruling in Johnson v. M’Intosh, which forms the foundation of U.S. Indian law.

  • The U.S. Congress backed by the executive branch hold oversight hearings on the implementation and effectiveness of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act and companion state legislation, the Maine Implementing Act, to examine how the agreements have complied with congressional intent, the negotiators’ understanding of the agreements, federal Indian law, treatment of other federally recognized tribes, and international human rights instruments as they pertain to indigenous peoples.

  • The U.S. should actively participate in the MITSC, an inter-governmental body charged to “continually review the effectiveness of the MIA and the social, economic and legal relationship between the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Penobscot Indian Nation, and the state to ensure that the legal and human rights of the Wabanaki are upheld.”

The committee’s report provides a concise history of Maine’s 160-plus years of racist paternalism toward the Wabanaki people, including violations of the Constitution’s Article I, section 8, clause 3, the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790 and other illegal land grabs.

“In addition to the constant encroachment on Wabanaki land, the State of Maine did not recognize nor respect inherent Wabanaki sovereignty. Maine treated the Wabanaki as if they were children requiring the state to manage their affairs,” the report says.

It quotes from an 1842 state Supreme Court decision involving the Wabanaki: “Imbecility on their part, and the dictates of humanity on ours, have necessarily prescribed to them their subjection to our paternal control; in disregard of some, at least, of abstract principles of the rights of man.”

But the committee’s harshest criticism is reserved for the state’s recent actions and neglect, resulting in vast discrepancies between the Wabanaki and the surrounding Maine population in income, life expectancy, health, education, and other “factors associated with societal well-being.”

The report details several “egregious violations” of the settlement acts by the state, such as exerting sole authority over Wabanaki waters and lands; collaborating with giant paper companies that polluted the nations’ aboriginal waterways and jeopardized their sustenance fishing rights; using state courts to strip the nations of sovereignty over “internal affairs;” efforts to coerce the Maliseets into waiving their settlement act rights, and more. In presenting their arguments, committee members cite numerous violations of particular articles of the Declaration.

“The committee did this in part in that we wanted to elevate before the eyes of our fellow Mainers, Americans, and the world that the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should be governing our relations with indigenous peoples,” Dieffenbacker-Krall said.

The federal government has not fulfilled its responsibility as a signatory to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, the report says.

“The U.S. has failed to exercise proper oversight over its political subdivision the State of Maine, allowing it to violate U.S. law and international human rights standards applicable to indigenous peoples,” the report says. It calls on the federal government to fully participate in the MITSC, including attending its meetings and sharing responsibility for its funding.

“The federal government has an obligation to participate. The settlement act is akin to a treaty and the commission is akin to a treaty body, so the federal government should not just be ignoring it,” Dieffenbacker-Krall said. “It should be participating and maybe it would at times curb some of these outrageous violations the State of Maine does on Wabanaki sovereignty.”



Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.