AUGUSTA, Maine — History will be made when Maine lawmakers return to the State House for their 2012 session and welcome a new member.
David Slagger will be seated in the House, becoming Maine’s first Maliseet Indian legislator. The University of Maine doctoral candidate will be sworn in by Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday.
Two of Maine’s four tribes — the Penobscots and Passamaquoddies — are already represented in the Legislature; the Micmacs are not. The Houlton Band of Maliseets was authorized to send a representative to the Legislature in 2010.
Maine is unique among the states in having Indian tribal representatives, according to Maine Indian historian Glenn Starbird. The earliest record of Indian representation dates to 1823, three years after Maine became a state, when the Penobscots sent a member.
“As a native person, I want to be a representative that does substantial things that affect our people’s lives in a positive way,” said Slagger, whose first name is an Anglicized version of his native-language name, pronounced TAP-it.
Indian representatives are selected internally by their tribes. They are allowed to submit bills, participate in legislative committee sessions and speak on the floor of the House, but they cannot vote. Their districts are also represented by voting legislators.
The 800-member Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians is part of the larger Maliseet Nation of New Brunswick, Canada, and is led by a tribal chief, Brenda Commander. Graydon Nicholas, New Brunswick’s lieutenant governor and a member of the Maliseet Tribe, plans to attend Slagger’s swearing-in in Maine.
Slagger, lives in Kenduskeag near Bangor with his wife, who is a Micmac, and three children. He said he wants to make a difference for the Native Americans he represents when he comes to Augusta.
Acknowledging that relations between Maine’s state government and tribal officials have not always been smooth, he said, “I would like to have respectful, harmonious relations with the state, and I would like to be an agent of that change.”
Slagger comes to the Capitol with at least one specific proposal in mind, a bill that would make it illegal to impersonate Native Americans. Slagger said such misrepresentation occurs in the sale of arts and crafts.
A number of other issues that go before lawmakers are of interest to the tribes, notably gambling and, in recent years, the use of words on official place names in the state that many Indians consider offensive.
Maine lawmakers face a packed agenda in the concluding year of their two-year session.
The governor wants to close a budget gap by imposing sweeping cutbacks that could remove thousands from Medicaid, or MaineCare. Also on LePage’s agenda is legislation to make natural gas available to more people and businesses and to merge some Cabinet-level departments.