Connecticut’s Campaign to Exterminate the Schaghticokes

A genteel genocide continues apace in Connecticut; not of a people, but of a long, proud heritage. The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation gained federal recognition in 2004 after 25 years of struggle.

Strident opponents exacted a heavy price: less-than-ideal financial backing from an investor seeking to build a third casino in Connecticut. Federal recognition and plans to construct an entertainment facility in Bridgeport only redoubled the state’s century-old campaign to exterminate the Schaghticokes.

Connecticut’s public leaders placed private agendas ahead of public fairness by browbeating the U.S. Department of the Interior into revoking that recognition last October.

Natives had better stand together with the Schaghticokes – emulating the recent show of solidarity by the gracious tribal council chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag – lest other hard-won sovereignties suffer similar overthrows.

In this case, appealing news copy of old-line Yankees defeating “ragtag” minions of casino thugs hid the real wrongdoing.

The only green in the grass-roots organization behind this apparent popular outcry – the Town Action to Save Kent group – was the money it spent to scuttle Schaghticoke sovereignty by surreptitiously insinuating its way into Interior, the White House and a standing committee of the U.S. Senate.

TASK even finagled a front-of-the-bus seat on presidential aspirant John McCain’s “Straight-Talk Express.”

Public figures – in and out of government, from both political parties, inside and outside the Beltway – harmonized the hackneyed hype of “good government” into a symphony of subversion.

Democratic Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Christopher Dodd, supporters until the Schaghticokes attained recognition, complained that the federal recognition process was “broken.”

An inspector general reviewed the recognition for six months in mid-2004, at Dodd’s behest, clearing Interior, the BIA and the STN of any wrongdoing.

Instead, this independent investigation concluded that the process had been transparent. Dissatisfied with this outcome, the senators let their Connecticut cronies crush the Schaghticokes.

Richard Blumenthal placed political ambition ahead of his duty as Connecticut attorney general by illegally circumventing a federal court order against covert lobbying of federal officials by interested parties.

Blumenthal subsequently lied on statewide television, claiming that he would “no more” contact such officials during a proceeding “than call the president.” He basically did both. If anyone broke the BIA machinery, he did.

Republican Reps. Nancy Johnson and Christopher Shays were equally shameless in tampering with the recognition process by co-signing a letter to Interior, inappropriately demanding an unwarranted reversal. Representing the town of Kent and surrounding areas, including the tribal reservation, Johnson derided the Schaghticokes as impostors. She proposed a bill in Congress to terminate their existence. This Midwest native knows as much about Connecticut’s history as the nonresidents bankrolling TASK.

Please give Johnson credit, however, for her principled refusal to return contributions emanating from the kingmaker of Indian casino sleaze, Jack Abramoff.

Only when she could no longer use disgraced Rep. Tom DeLay to get the coveted chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee did Johnson surrender the booty.

Caving in to Johnson, Shays turned his back on 10,000 new jobs in his district even though 87 percent of the people in Bridgeport favored the urban reclamation envisioned by the Schaghticokes.

TASK stoked popular passions by warning that the Schaghticokes would build a casino in quaint little Kent, marring its beauty and overwhelming its infrastructure.

This “Town Auction to Sell Kent” (a bill of goods) had the deep pockets and decibels to drown out assurances by the Schaghticokes that construction would occur 50 miles away in Bridgeport – Connecticut’s largest and poorest city.

Testifying before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Republican Gov. Jodi Rell manifestly overstated the housing congestion of Connecticut’s northwest corner as a reason to overturn recognition. Only one non-Schaghticoke residence lies on the 2,200 acres currently under dispute; none of the soil in question has been tilled for anything in 200 years.

The Kent School, prideful of its religious tradition, dredged up tribal lands to elevate the headmaster’s new mansion to spare it from seasonal flash floods. This school blithely ignored state laws to preserve artifacts that might have lain there.

Tribal leaders looked on helplessly as the headmaster, an ordained Episcopal priest, allowed dump trucks to fill that crater with solid, often toxic, wastes.

The Rev. Richardson Schell scorned more than the tribe’s history; he brushed aside environmental concerns by placing that thinly covered garbage dump near a tributary of the Housatonic River.

Publicly available information proves that TASK, Johnson and Blumenthal, et al., committed the very transgressions they themselves accuse of the Schaghticokes.

Nevertheless, a lie said for the thousandth time is no closer to the truth than when it was first uttered.

This invective against American Indians is not about spillover costs of casinos. The catalyzing issue remains land; the STN lost 95 percent of theirs through illegal sales by state-appointed officials.

Federal recognition remains a prerequisite for the STN to enjoy the fair hearing to which they are entitled. With sovereign status, the tribe can enforce valid claims through the 1790 Non-Intercourse Act.

State, local and community leaders should end their shameful shenanigans against the Schaghticokes. The tribe deserves a better reservation than a rocky rump in the middle of nowhere. The Schaghticokes have always been good neighbors, as most longtime Kent residents remember, serving Connecticut in war and observing the peace.

The extinction of a tiny people may not add up to a whole lot for everyday American citizens. Yet, in a democracy that not so long ago viewed a Great Society in terms of decency rather than dollars, “might making right” poisons the fairness vital to its longevity.

<i>Edward J. McDonnell III, CFA, serves as an unpaid financial adviser to the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation.