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Can you hear me now? NAACP supports sovereignty

WATERBURY, Conn. - The country's oldest civil rights organization has
voiced its support for the state's two American Indian tribes that are
seeking federal acknowledgement.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People adopted an
emergency resolution July 13 at its national convention, supporting the
Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation's
"continued sovereignty and federal recognition."

"We are very pleased with the show of support from the NAACP," Eastern
Pequot Chairman Marcia Flowers said.

The two tribes were granted federal acknowledgement by the BIA in 2002 and
2004, respectively, but the full force of the state and towns' elected
officials and a private group of anticasino, anti-sovereignty property
owners was brought to bear against the decisions.

In May, the Interior Board of Indian Appeals vacated the BIA decisions
under appeal by the state and towns, and remanded them back to the agency
for reconsideration.

The resolution of tribal support was brought to the national convention by
James Griffin, president of the NAACP's Waterbury, Conn. chapter, who sent
out a press release and copy of the resolution to all of the state's media
from the convention in Milwaukee.

"The political oppression and assassination of Native American tribes in
Connecticut must stop. We believe the resolution was a first step in
calling national attention to the unrelenting and unfair attacks being
mounted against both the Eastern Pequots and the Schaghticoke," Griffin
said in the release.

But when Griffin returned to Connecticut two days later, he found out just
how difficult it is to draw local - let alone national - attention to the
issue of American Indian sovereignty.

Almost all of the state's newspapers had ignored the NAACP story, Griffin
said. The Hartford Courant, the state's largest newspaper, printed a
severely edited AP version buried on page B7 after the obituaries.

An irate Griffin headed back to the keyboard and sent out another e-mail to
the press with the subject line: "NAACP Issues and Voices Silenced By Press
In Connecticut."

"I have watched closely the tremendous slant against those who dare to
challenge the political and corporate leadership in Connecticut ... The
governor, attorney general, state elected officials and other mostly white
leaders, if not all, get constant attention when they attack Native
Americans and other minorities. Or when they attempt to influence the
courts or other bodies responsible for giving fair hearings to the people.
Yet when opposing forces rise to question why such pressure is being
applied to deny Native Americans equal rights and a fair hearing, they are
silenced. The theme of our 96th national convention was 'Conscience of a
Nation.' Don't you get it?" Griffin wrote.

The e-mail worked, Griffin said July 18.

"The story went on the wire everywhere after I sent out that little note,
so it covered the whole state," Griffin said.

But, he pointed out, most of the stories ignored his criticism of Gov. Jodi
Rell, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson,
R-Conn. (5th District), who has submitted a bill in Congress to terminate
the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation.

"When a sitting congresswoman calls a tribe a group of 'rag tags,' when the
attorney general claims victory when groups are denied an opportunity to
clarify the record, and when the governor tells Sen. John McCain [R-Ariz.]
reservations no longer exist in Connecticut, it is clear our political
leaders are distorting the truth," Griffin had written.

The omission of the statement from media reports was "just another example
of what happens when there's opposition to some pretty powerful people in
the state," Griffin said.

Griffin announced in June that he would seek renewed resolutions of support
for Indian sovereignty from the national NAACP and the state's Legislative
Black and Hispanic Caucus, which have passed such resolution in previous
years.

With decisions due from the BIA in September and October, "There is more
urgency now," Griffin said.

So he is actively seeking support from the local black and Hispanic
communities. Last month, Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Chief Richard Velky
attended a meeting Griffin organized with around two dozen community
leaders in Waterbury, who agreed to participate in a petition drive
supporting the tribe.

Similar meetings will be held Bridgeport and New Haven before the BIA's
decision deadline.

"We hope to have a big rally before that date with speakers," Griffin said.