Bill to reorganize Native American panel stalls

  • Sherry Gould (D-Warner) on March 15, 2023. Andrew Sylvia /Manchester Ink Link

Manchester Ink Link
Published: 3/16/2023 6:35:13 PM

Does New Hampshire’s Commission on Native American affairs need reorganization? The consensus on Wednesday was “no.”

The bill under discussion on Wednesday at the New Hampshire House of Representatives’ Committee on Executive Departments and Administration, HB 390, seeks to modify membership in the Commission on Native American Affairs, which currently consists of 15 members.

The bill brings that number down to nine members, with five coming from Abenaki tribes recognized by the State of Vermont. The other four positions would come from a Native American appointed by the president of Dartmouth College and another from the president of the University of New Hampshire, one from the New Hampshire Intertribal Council and one from the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Sherry Gould (D-Warner), introduced an amendment that instead created a study committee to investigate the process of federal recognition and state recognition for Abenaki tribes.

Denise Pouliot, female head speaker for the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People, said that the amendment was difficult to obtain and not online, with committee chair Carol McGuire (R-Epsom) stating amendments were not placed online until they had been voted upon.

Pouliot and Cowasuck Grand Chief Paul Pouliot also testified jointly in opposition to the original bill itself, seeing this proposal as unnecessary.

“Let the indigenous community have their own voice on this,” said Paul Pouliot. “This is not a legislative matter.”

With one exception, public testimony was uniformly opposed to the bill, with individuals seeing it as a waste of time, divisive, too reliant on Vermont’s definition of Abenaki tribes and ultimately disenfranchising the broader makeup of the current commission.

McGuire also admonished some individuals testifying on the bill for impugning the character of the bill’s sponsors, stating that it is the committee’s policy not to allow negative comments against others during a discussion on the bill.

Although McGuire originally indicated that the committee aimed to retain the bill, an inexpedient to legislate (ITL) motion was made by Jaci Grote (D-Rye), believing that the bill’s flaws could not be corrected with further analysis that would be provided with a retention motion.

Peter Schmidt (D-Dover) felt that it was inappropriate for non-indigenous peoples to weigh in on a commission meant to be a voice for indigenous peoples.

Juliet Smith (D-Manchester) challenged Schmidt’s assertion, saying that people who are not part of a group can still help that group. However, she and several other members of the committee said they had not heard a compelling case on why the commission’s structure should be amended.

Gould reiterated the need to investigate federal and state procedures on the recognition of tribes and also indicated that the commission had difficulties meeting a quorum in the past.

The ITL motion was recommended, 16-3. Gould was joined by Daniel Fitzpatrick (D-Rochester) and Glenn Bailey (R-Milton). LathaMangipudi (D-Nashua) substituted for Matt Wilhelm (D-Manchester) during the vote. Michael O’Brien (D-Nashua) was present during part of the vote, but not at the beginning of the vote, and was thus was not given an opportunity to cast a vote on the motion.

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