Why I spoke out on tribal judicial issues

Bangor Daily News by Opinion Contributor

The Maine State House is seen at sunrise on March 16, 2023, in Augusta. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Jennifer Poirier of Skowhegan represents District 70 in the Maine House of Representatives.

In a May 9 column titled, “Harmful misinformation can’t distract from tribal progress in Maine,” Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis and Ambassador Maulian Bryant said that my floor speech for LD 2007, An Act to Advance Self-determination for Wabanaki Nations, contained incorrect information. The column makes no specific reference to what part of my speech was inaccurate.

I strongly disagree that any information I presented to the House of Representatives was inaccurate and encourage readers to listen to my remarks on behalf of tribal members who have no voice in what is an important conversation. The information that I shared about deficiencies in the tribal court system derived from my conversations with tribal members who have first hand experience with the court. I shared personal stories of two tribal women who felt “unheard,” until I spoke of their experiences.

In 2022, legislation included tribes in Maine in the federal Violence Against Women Act. My speech referenced that the act is not being utilized by tribes because I was told they did not want to pay to house inmates in county correctional facilities.

I understand that it is uncomfortable for any person or entity to be called out on deficiencies. Positive change often requires difficult conversations. Weeks after my floor speech, a tribal member sent me the annual general meeting agenda for Penobscot Nation dated April 3. Item 13 on the agenda was “Tribal Court — Adoption of VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) 2022.” It appears that Violence Against Women Act had not yet been adopted into tribal law and will not be discussed until the June 1 meeting.

As a state representative, I have been given a great opportunity and responsibility to serve my constituents and the people of Maine. I am passionate and earnest about this responsibility. I use due diligence and listen to information presented at committee hearings and I vigorously research the legislation before it comes to the floor of the House of Representatives for vote.

In my past two terms, I have submitted and co-sponsored bills to tribal relations. I have worked with House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross to pass LD 78, which permitted the publication of the full Maine Constitution, including Maine treaty obligations to the tribes. I have also worked tirelessly to help the Kineo St. John Tribe gain state recognition, when even some of their tribal families have fought against them.

I realize that I cannot make everyone happy all of the time. I am committed to sharing facts and being honest about all legislation I consider. U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith said it best: “The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.”

If my remarks in any way prompt positive change for tribal members without a voice in the conversation, then we have taken a step in the right direction.


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