Politics & Other Mistakes: The C word

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In the complicated debate over how to correct injustices heaped upon Maine’s Indigenous People, there’s a word nobody dares to use.

No, not the former name of what’s now known as the “Washington Football Team.” (Too bad they didn’t rename it “Washington Team Football,” because then the initials would have accurately reflected that organization’s long history of racism, sexism, and inept sports management.)

The term that everyone is tiptoeing around as the Legislature considers a massive revamping of the state’s relationship with its tribes isn’t one of those unacceptable epithets concerning race or sex. So why isn’t anyone courageous enough to come right out and say it?

Because it’s really about that other thing that makes folks squeamish:


Obviously, that’s not the word nobody will use. People of all ethnicities talk about money all the time. The innocuous collection of syllables that cannot be uttered in public is less about cash itself than the grubby business of how to get it.

So naturally, it’s in all the parties’ best interests to avoid the shunned word, and put the emphasis in the debate on something more principled. Unfortunately, that means other serious issues are being employed by the participants as camouflage to obscure what none of them wants to mention.

“Change must be made in our education, judicial and law enforcement institutions,” Donna Loring, a Penobscot Nation elder, wrote in a June newspaper op-ed.

Hard to dispute that.

In February, Maulian Dana, the Penobscot’s tribal ambassador, told the Portland Press Herald, “Indigenous nations are not special interests, and these are equal rights, not special rights.”

Amen to that.

According to a story in the Original Irregular, Bert Polchics, a Penobscot Nation member, told the Carrabassett Valley selectmen last month, “We need to be able to control our own destinies. … Our ways are not to create harm in any way, to endanger, or to destroy. We’re trying to protect and make things better.”

Everybody get on board. But before the love train leaves the station, make room in the caboose for that thing that isn’t being talked about:

The C word.

The 1980 Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act gave the tribes that were parties to it lots of land. But it also put lots of restrictions on how that land could be used. Native Americans couldn’t simply decide to build a nuclear waste dump. They couldn’t unilaterally start selling recreational marijuana. And they couldn’t legalize gambling.

Which brings us – finally – to the dreaded C word. Readers whose moral principles prevent them from watching TV shows preceded by warnings that they’re for “mature audiences” should forego the remaining paragraphs. Because the C word is:


Buried in the 22 proposed changes to Maine’s laws governing its relationship with the tribes is a section allowing gambling on all Indian land. But any clods so lacking in social graces that they’d actually bring up that point should be prepared to be buried in self-righteous indignation.

“We’re not here for casinos,” Michael-Corey Hinton, a lawyer for the Passamaquoddy Tribe told a legislative committee in February. “We are here to restore our sovereignty and our ability to self-govern.”

Then he added, “Under federal law, that would include the right to game.”

Hinton wasn’t talking about partridge.

I live in an area of western Maine almost entirely surrounded by land the Penobscots bought under the Settlement Act. If this legislation is approved, there’s a good chance I’ll have a gambling emporium for a neighbor. I’ve got no problem with that. Except for one thing.

Maine needs to revise its gaming laws not only to allow Indian casinos but also to permit any other reasonably qualified entity willing to pay a hefty licensing fee and a ridiculous tax on profits to offer slot machines and table games. For too long, gambling policy has been set by referendums, rather than sensible regulations.

Either everybody should be able to operate a casino, or nobody should.

That’s just a matter of a phrase that also begins with C:

Common sense.

Raise the stakes by emailing me at [email protected].

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