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Maine tribe recalls fourth chief in 7 years

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Maine tribe recalls fourth chief in 7 years

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The Passamaquoddy tribe at Sipayik has removed its chief for the fourth time in seven years, voting to recall Chief Rena Newell ahead of a meeting proposed for next month with Gov. Janet Mills.

The ouster happened as leaders of the Penobscot, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq and Passamaquoddy consider whether to meet the governor next month at the Blaine House for the first “Tribal-State Summit” spelled out in recent legislation. So far, only one of the chiefs, William Nicholas, from the Passamaquoddy’s Indian Township, has committed to attending, the governor’s office said Tuesday.

The Nov. 17 meeting could be an opportunity for Native American leaders and the governor to clear the air before lawmakers reconvene to take up a tribal sovereignty bill in the new year.

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The tribes are angry at Mills because she vetoed a bill aimed at ensuring tribes get benefits from federal laws moving forward and opposed a previous sovereignty proposal. Unlike the rest of the nation’s federally recognized tribes, Native Americans in Maine are governed by a different land claim settlement, under which they’re treated much like municipalities, subject to state law.

The governor’s office contends it is willing to negotiate on future legislation. Emails to the chiefs’ representatives weren’t immediately returned Tuesday.

“If the meeting does happen, I hope that there can be open hearts and minds — and that we can have a meaningful talk about upcoming legislation,” Maulian Bryant, Penobscot Nation ambassador and president of the Wabanaki Alliance, said Tuesday.

Rena Newell

Former Passamaquoddy Tribal Rep. Rena Newell, left, is seen at the State House in Augusta, Maine, April 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, files)

This would be the first annual meeting set out in a law approved last year. That law provided online sports betting revenue to the tribes and set forth a process for regular contact between the four federally recognized tribes and state government agencies.

Newell served less than a year before being recalled the day after Indigenous Peoples Day, when hundreds gathered outside the State House to rally support for a Nov. 7 vote to require tribal treaties and obligations to be restored to printed versions of the Maine Constitution.

She previously served as the tribal representative to the Maine Legislature when the sports betting proposal and another bill aimed at ensuring clean drinking water for the Sipayik reservation were approved. She also has been active on Maine tribes’ efforts to attain greater sovereignty from the state.

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Bryant said she counted Newell as a friend, and said she hopes for “healing and peace” in her community. She said she looked forward to working with the new chief.

Under the tribe’s constitution, Vice Chief Amkuwiposohehs “Pos” Bassett is the chief-elect. But Bassett could choose to remain vice chief, requiring an election.

A meeting is scheduled Wednesday to determine the leadership in Sipayik, an official said.

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Previous chiefs who were recalled over a seven-year stretch were Fred Moore III in 2016, Vera Francis in 2017 and Marla Dana in 2020. Newell had served in 2022.

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