INDIAN ISLAND, Maine — State officials have apologized to the Penobscot Nation for the bus inspections conducted by the Maine State Police on tribal land two weekends ago, according to a joint statement released Thursday by state and Indian Island officials.
Tribal and state officials, including Public Safety Commissioner John Morris and state police Col. Robert Williams, met Tuesday on Indian Island to discuss the incident.
On Saturday morning, Sept. 10, three members of the state police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Unit drove onto Indian Island and boarded nine of 15 buses used to take customers to Penobscot high stakes bingo, according to Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland.
The team issued four summonses — one to a driver with a suspended license, one for an out-of-date log book, one for broken brake lights and another McCausland didn’t have available — and eight warnings, five for problems with lights and three for log book issues.
All the while, Penobscot Nation Police Chief Robert Bryant and other tribal representatives protested the fact that uniformed state police had crossed over the bridge onto the island with no prior notice.
“I think it was a slap in the face to tribal sovereignty,” Penobscot Nation Tribal Chief Kirk Francis said the week after the inspections.
Tribal officials called it a raid on their sovereign soil.
Both sides said Tuesday’s meeting was productive and “all parties worked to find a resolution to ensure that such a situation does not occur again,” the press release stated.
State officials said at the meeting that a “breakdown in understanding and communication” that day led to the inspections and the controversy over the reservation’s sovereignty and Maine State Police’s jurisdiction that followed.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Francis commended the public safety commissioner and governor’s office for taking the initiative and setting up a meeting to hash out the dispute.
The state and tribe will be working to iron out improved guidelines and protocols on how the two can collaborate beforehand to avoid contentious incidents, according to the statement.
State officials said they recognized and respected the tribe’s sovereign status and that the inspections did not reflect any negative attitude toward the Penobscot Nation or its bingo operation.
“As two sovereigns, the tribe and the state have agreed to implement tools for the clear and comprehensive communication that will allow for a more collaborative relationship,” the statement said.
Francis said those communication “tools” include a document being drafted by Bryant and Williams that outlines situations in which the state should call the tribe to set up a collaborative action or ask for the OK to cross the bridge onto the island. The document also will specify when the tribe should call for state police aid — such as in the investigation of a serious felony on the island.
Collaboration and communication are key to avoiding future disputes, Francis said.
“You have to take an incident like this and, first of all, find solutions, but also work toward making sure it never happens again,” he said.