(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he’d have a hard time signing legislation that gives formal state recognition to the Abenaki Indian tribe. Douglas called on lawmakers to drop their effort to pass such a bill because the legislation could bolster the Abenakis’ application to win federal recognition — a situation the governor says could result in land claims and casino gambling in Vermont. Supporters of the legislation say they strongly disagree with Douglas’s assessment of the bill.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) Douglas used his strongest language to date about a bill that would confer formal state recognition to the Abenaki.
Backers of the legislation say their proposal is needed to recognize the tribe’s cultural contributions to Vermont. And they argue that the bill will allow the Abenaki to apply for a variety of federal education and economic development grants.
However, the Attorney General’s office believes passage of the legislation will enhance the Abenakis’ application to win formal federal recognition. The governor thinks this argument is compelling and while he rarely threatens to veto a bill, he is sending a clear message about this one:
(Douglas) “I feel pretty strongly about it because this has potentially very serious consequences. I know that some of the proponents say it’s just about preserving culture and selling artifacts and that sort of thing but if you look at what’s happened in other states, whether federal recognition has been granted, it establishes a sovereign nation with relations directly with the federal government.”
(Kinzel) Douglas believes federal recognition could open the door to some issues that would be very negative for the state of Vermont:
(Douglas) “And the issue of casino gambling is a very real one. The concern about people losing their real property is very real, indeed. So I think we have to understand the potential serious consequences of federal recognition.”
(Kinzel) The legislation has been unanimously approved by the Senate Economic Development Committee. Essex-Orleans Senator Vince Illuzzi is the chairman of the panel. Illuzzi says it’s very appropriate for this issue to come before the Legislature and he thinks the governor is mistaken about some key facts:
(Illuzzi) “There’s nothing unusual about this bill. He thinks that it has negative consequences, we think it has only positive consequences. It’s the considered opinion of my committee, of the witnesses that we’ve heard testify that no, state recognition does not lead to federal recognition. Period.”
(Kinzel) The Senate Judiciary Committee is informally reviewing the bill and is expected to vote on the legislation next week.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.