The newly established Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations sent a letter to Gov. Mills on Thursday advising her on steps her administration should take to address systemic racism in Maine.
“The events of recent weeks reaffirm the importance of this commission,” said Rachel Talbot Ross, Maine State Representative and interim chair of the Commission.
The brutal, unjust killing of George Floyd on May 25 and so many Black lives taken before and since, has reignited a global conversation about systemic racism and the ways in which anti-Black racism has affected the lives, health and well-being of Black people in the United States. In addition, Maine’s communities of color have been demanding for weeks that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services address the significantly disparate impact of COVID-19 on their communities.
“Maine has one of the nation’s most egregious disparities in positive COVID-19 tests, with Black Mainers more than 25 times as likely as white Mainers to test positive for the disease, according to the latest Maine CDC data,” said James Myall, Policy Analyst at Maine Center for Economic Policy and a member of the Commission.
The Commission is an independent entity with a mission not only to examine racial disparities across systems in Maine, but to expressly improve opportunities and outcomes for historically disadvantaged racial, indigenous and tribal populations in Maine.
“We are encouraged by the governor’s recent statement that she hopes to work with the Commission, in our advisory role to the Executive Branch, to identify ways state government should proactively address the factors contributing to racial disparities in Maine,” said Ian Yaffe, Executive Director of Mano en Mano and a member of the Commission.
“The Permanent Commission is one way we can ensure this historic moment becomes a sustained and thoughtful set of changes and structural reforms,” said Maulian Dana, Tribal Ambassador for the Penobscot Nation and a member of the Commission.
The letter recommends a set of guiding principles and immediate steps the governor should take, including:
- Provide emergency CARES Act funding and technical assistance to Black, Indigenous and People of Color. While the CARES Act aims to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, it should fund both immediate response efforts and efforts to build, strengthen and support the social infrastructure of the most affected communities. Funding should relieve the current predicament while setting communities up to address more permanent solutions.
- Support LD 2094, “An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act.” This bill is representative of the kind of self-determining process we believe needs to take place, one that is led and intimately informed by the communities seeking justice from systemic racism.
- Empower the Commission with the resources it needs to be most effective. While the Commission has an immense charge and state law empowers the Commission to use a variety of tools, such as research, public hearings and introducing legislation, it is currently unfunded.
- Direct state agencies to begin collecting and publishing data that is disaggregated by race, ethnicity and tribal status wherever possible. Agencies should then begin tracking disparities in their areas of jurisdiction.
- Support a ‘truth and reconciliation’ process conducted by this Commission and the Maine Human Rights Commission. The purpose will be to build a body of knowledge upon which all Maine people could draw from in seeking a way forward that no longer perpetuates the racism and discrimination that is inherent in our systems.