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Copies of Maine Constitution will now include a long-omitted section on treaty obligations to tribes

The Maine State House is seen at sunrise, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
The Maine State House is seen at sunrise, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.

Maine voters have approved a referendum requiring that printed versions of the Maine Constitution include a long-withheld provision dictating the state's treaty obligations to tribes.

While the provision concerning Maine's treaty obligations has always remained in effect, the language has been omitted from official printed copies of the state constitution for nearly 150 years.

The reason for that omission isn't clear, but some have argued it was an attempt to hide Maine's obligations to the tribes.

On Tuesday night, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure requiring all provisions of the state constitution be included in official printed copies of the document.

Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador Maulian Bryant said the measure's passage is a significant step forward in the tribes' efforts for recognition and restoration of their sovereignty.

"And when we talk about the work we're doing in the legislature, and our policy priorities, it's about amending the Land Claims Settlement Act, and getting a lot of our recognition of our sovereignty restored in the state. And this is a really great step forward. It validates our sovereignty as tribal nations. And we're just really happy about this," Bryant said on Tuesday night.

There has been little organized opposition to the measure, but the administration of Gov. Janet Mills has argued that it could cause confusion.

In legislative debate earlier this year, the office added that there was no evidence of "ulterior motives" behind the removal of treaty obligations from the state constitution, and called the measure a "misguided attempt to right a historic wrong that never occurred."

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