xford County Administrator Tom Winsor told commissioners Tuesday that a bill proposing major changes to a 40-year-old agreement between state and tribal governments could resurrect the effort to bring a high-stakes gambling house to Albany Township.
"It would allow the tribes to declare any land that they purchase tribal land," he said. "They would be subject to federal rules, not state rules . . . that essentially allows a gambling casino to be built anywhere that there is private land, and it would be done under federal law."
According to a report by the Portland Press Herald in January, a task force recommended 22 changes to the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act. Those changes would restore some of the sovereignty that leaders of Maine’s four federally recognized tribes say was taken from them, and it would give tribes broader authority over issues including taxes, gambling and fishing.
The four tribes are Aroostook Band of Micmacs, Presque Isle; Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Houlton; Passamquoddy Tribe of Maine, Princeton and Perry; and Penobscot Indian Nation, Old Town.
In 1999, the Passamaquoddy Tribe proposed the development of a 2,000-seat high-stakes gambling facility in Albany Township, near the entrance to the White Mountain National Forest. The bill was killed in the Legislature.
Winsor said there were significant disagreements between the county and Passamaquoddy Tribe, mainly over sharing the cost of adding roads and other infrastructure to the rural area.
“One of the reasons it didn’t fly with us was that the tribes didn’t want to share the costs of upgrading roads, extra sheriff patrols, and everything else,” he said. “I’m not advocating for or against it, I’m just saying it’s a significant change. Everybody ought to understand how it would impact us.”
In April 2019, Oxford County commissioners announced their opposition to a bill that would have allowed Native American tribes to build a casino 50 miles from those in Oxford and Bangor.
Winsor said multiple representatives from Oxford County testified against LD 1144, “An Act to Authorize Tribal Gaming,” during a public hearing March 25 at the State House in Augusta. The bill would allow Native American tribes to operate a casino in southern Maine. That bill was carried over to the current legislative session.
Scott Vlaun, director of the Norway-based Center for an Ecology Based Economy, testified before the Legislature on Friday in support of the bill. Speaking on behalf of Maine Climate Action NOW!, he said the bill would help “repair the inequities cited on our indigenous communities in the past, and to bring equity forward so that we can all move forward.
“We understand that this is not an instance of our state granting their rights but rather restoring their rights and a measure of their sovereignty that was taken away by the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act,” Vlaun testified.