AUGUSTA, Maine — Approximately three weeks after he was sworn in as the newest member of Maine’s 125th Legislature and as the state’s first Maliseet legislator, David Slagger has begun to settle in to the job.
He has gotten acquainted with fellow representatives, secured a committee assignment and attended meetings and caucuses. Now, the Kenduskeag resident and University of Maine doctoral student is ready to focus on legislation he feels will benefit both tribal members and other Native Americans in the state.
“It has been a hectic few weeks, but also really enjoyable,” Slagger said during a recent interview. “Everyone has been really welcoming to me, which has eased the transition a lot.”
The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians was formally recognized as a tribe by the U.S. government in 1980 and in 2010 it was authorized to send a representative to the Legislature. Slagger, wearing a hand-beaded tribal vest and carrying a golden eagle feather and bundle of braided sweet grass, was sworn in during a ceremony Jan. 4 in the governor’s cabinet room in the Maine State House. He joins representatives of Maine’s two biggest tribes, the Passamaquoddy and the Penobscot nation, which have had member lawmakers at the State House for years.
Slagger was chosen after three candidates were interviewed by the Malisset tribal council, tribal Chief Brenda Commander said on Monday.
Slagger said he has been involved in tribal issues for 25 years, so serving as a representative seemed like the next natural step.
“In public service, it is the people’s voice that matters,” said Slagger. “But for a long time the Maliseet people have not had a voice. This is a good first step.”
While he is happy to be a representative, he said he feels limited by the regulations that govern the position. Tribal representatives can propose legislation with a co-sponsor and serve on committees, but they cannot vote on legislation. Since tribal members live throughout the state, preventing tribal representatives from voting is intended to avoid dual representation.
“I think that we should have voting rights,” argued Slagger. “I really think that its something the tribe should consider and work with the state on. Tribes could be their own communities so we could have that right to vote.”
Slagger sits on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee and is thinking of potential legislation. One idea he has is for a bill to prevent people from impersonating Native Americans in order to sell arts and crafts and other products.
“There are a number of places on the Internet and even in some marketplaces where people sell goods that they claim are Native American or Wabanaki products and made by a member of a federally recognized tribe when they really aren’t,” he said. He noted that a federal law is in place to prevent this, but he says that there are a number of people passing off tribal goods as authentic when they are not.
“It is difficult when people are out there profiting off a tribe and they aren’t even a member of the tribe,” he said. “Its offensive.”
He also would like to see the state create a repository for bird feathers to allow Native Americans to access them for use in their crafts.
Chief Commander said Monday said that having a tribal representative has been something the tribe has been working on “for some time.”
“We have worked hard to gain the same rights as other tribes in Maine,” she said. “It was a lot of work, but the entire tribe is happy about this.”
Commander said that in the future, the tribal council is looking to hold an election to select a representative to serve for several years.
Slagger said that he also plans to work with local legislators on issues important to people throughout the state. He attends both the Republican and Democratic caucuses to listen and familiarize himself with issues the state is facing.
The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians has approximately 800 members with tribal offices in Littleton.