Recognition critics leave no way out over recusals
DERBY, Conn. - Calls for the resignation of BIA head David Anderson have
their origin in the bitter fight by Connecticut politicians against any new
tribal recognitions in their vicinity.
U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., made the most direct attack on
Anderson on May 7 after a House Government Reform Committee hearing on
tribal recognition keyed in on his recusal from all pending acknowledgment
decisions. U.S. Sen. Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., followed with a more limited
attack on Anderson who was confirmed by the Senate Dec. 9.
Indian leaders more recently have been saying to give Anderson a chance,
noting that his loudest critics come from Connecticut. Some politicians in
Connecticut have reacted to recent and pending acknowledgments with an
intransigence they themselves attribute to fear of both new casinos and
revived land claims suits.
It was a petition from neighboring Massachusetts that first caused Anderson
to promise to recuse himself from a decision, that is to remove himself
totally from the process because of the appearance of conflict of interest.
The Nipmuc nation, headquartered in Sutton, Mass., is drawing financial
backing from Lakes Entertainment, Inc., and its head, Minnesota businessman
Lyle Berman, who was previously a business partner with Anderson. The
company Web site says it has "entered into Development and Management
contracts to assist the Nipmuc Nation" in a casino project.
In Anderson's confirmation hearings last Oct. 22, he told the Senate Indian
Affairs Committee he would stay out of the Nipmuc case. (The BIA's Office
of Federal Acknowledgement was scheduled to announce its decision May 1 but
shortly before asked for a 45-day extension.)
In early April Anderson wrote Secretary of Interior Gale Norton asking to
expand his Nipmuc recusal to all gaming issues, including land-into-trust
takings for casinos.
The same figures now attacking Anderson for his recusal are simultaneously
charging that tribal financial backers have a sinister influence over the
BIA. At the May 7 Congressional hearing, Connecticut Attorney General
Richard Blumenthal cited "continuing evidence of money, politics and
personal agendas impacting tribal recognition decisions." Earlier that
week, his office filed a 197-page brief to the Interior Board of Indian
Appeals attacking the recent recognition of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation
as "arbitrary and lawless."
The appeal was joined by a smattering of small towns in the state's
Fairfield County as well as two defendants in the Schaghticoke's federal
Blumenthal has also appealed the 2002 recognition of the Eastern Pequot
Tribal Nation, which is now in abeyance during the glacial proceedings of
the BIA. Even though the Nipmuc nation lies outside of his jurisdiction, he
also protested its temporary recognition in the last hours of the Clinton
administration, later reversed by then BIA head Neal McCaleb, and he filed
an opposing brief when OFA reconsidered its petition.
Although the Nipmuc and Eastern Pequot leaders earlier adopted a strategy
of keeping their head down, their patience is apparently getting thin. In
testimony at the Government Reform Committee hearing, Eastern Pequot
Chairwoman Marcia Jones Flowers said pointedly, "Political influence is at
work here, but it is not being exercised by our tribe. Rather, incredible
influence is being brought to bear by a small group of people whose real
goal is to stop Indian gaming in Connecticut."
The Schaghticokes for their part have started to counterattack. In April,
they filed a federal court complaint over an unannounced meeting between
Blumenthal and Secretary Norton. Chief Richard Velky charged, "Blinded by
what can only be explained as a burning need to be politically popular,
Attorney General Blumenthal has repeatedly attempted to directly influence
federal officials in clear violation of the legally binding process."
(The Schaghticoke recognition followed a timetable set by the federal judge
handling its land-claims cases, and an agreement among the parties had
forbidden unilateral contact with federal officials without prior notice to
the other side.)
The Schaghticokes have also mobilized political support from the state's
big-city minorities, who are much more receptive to a casino and the jobs
it would create than are the residents of the upscale small towns. At the
end of April the General Assembly's Black and Latino caucus wrote
Blumenthal asking him to drop his appeal of the Schaghticoke's recognition.
The members said they doubted that "an appeal will be successful,
considering that no appeal of a Bureau of Indian Affairs final
determination has ever been overturned.
"We believe that the 23-year process of federal recognition that the
Schaghticoke Tribal Nation has undergone was a more rigorous, comprehensive
and transparent course that any other federally recognized tribe has
The caucus called on Blumenthal and Gov. John Rowland instead to start
negotiating a gaming compact
It is more likely however that the controversy will deepen in coming weeks
as more recognition decisions come due. OFA has announced it is
concentrating on the petition from the Golden Hill Paugussett tribe, which
once occupied a reservation in what is now the downtown of the coastal city
of Bridgeport and still holds a quarter-acre reservation in Trumbull and a
site in Colchester. That decision is due in early June, and the new Nipmuc
deadline comes a week later.