A bill that would allow Maine’s Wabanaki tribes to benefit from future laws that apply to other tribes in the U.S. received bipartisan support Wednesday from members of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

The “Advancing Equality for Wabanaki Nations Act” – H.R. 6707 – was introduced earlier this year by 2nd District U.S. Rep. Jared Golden and co-sponsored by 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree. Both are Democrats.

Tribal leaders worked closely with Golden’s office on the bill, and the chiefs of all four tribes in Maine testified for it at a hearing before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples on April 1.

“This bill will grant Wabanaki tribes the same access to crucial future federal support and protections as every other federally-recognized tribe,” Golden said.

Close to 600 federally recognized tribes in the United States already have access to federal laws that benefit their members. Maine tribes have been excluded for more than four decades from such federal laws and programs under a controversial agreement three of them negotiated with the state, and they have long sought to benefit from changes to federal law that apply to other tribes.

Golden and Pingree said the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act prevents Wabanaki tribes from prosecuting non-Indian defendants under the Violence Against Women Act for domestic violence crimes against tribal members. The Settlement Act also prevents tribes in Maine from using medical professionals licensed in other states and from directly seeking federal disaster relief and emergency assistance.

“This legislation allows the Maine tribes to be treated the same as the other 570 federally recognized tribes across the country under any future laws passed by Congress,” Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis said in a statement Wednesday. “It is a forward thinking bill that has bipartisan support in Maine.”

“The experimental policy known as the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 is a failed one. We have 42 years of litigation, policy failures, and transgressions to prove it’s time to move forward,” said Chief William Nicholas of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk.

“Securing approval from the House Natural Resources Committee today is a promising step towards fixing the disparity that has uniquely challenged Maine’s tribes for decades,” Pingree said. “Simply put it’s a matter of fairness.”

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