Eastern Pequot recognized

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Congratulations to the Eastern Pequot, now including the Paucatucks, who, recombined as one tribe, have just gained their long-sought-after federal recognition. It has been an interesting process, and the decision will no doubt be appealed, but it confirms the long-standing reality of this nearly 1200-member tribe.

Separately, the two factions of the tribe have sought federal recognition for over 25 years. They won preliminary recognition during the Clinton Administration. Kevin Gover at that time was accused in the media of improperly forcing a positive decision, but the proper authorities found no wrongdoing in Gover's actions. This new "Final Determination to Acknowledge the Historical Eastern Pequot Tribe," a decision under a Republican Administration, not only speaks well for BIA head Neal McCaleb, it works to confirm and vindicate the veracity of Gover's instinct during his tenure. Gover advised the two factions to reconfigure as one tribe. The two groups, who share the 224-acre, state-recognized Lantern Hill Reservation, have agreed to the decision and pledged to work together to form a single tribal government.

A great deal of controversy and conflict surround the issues of tribal recognition in Connecticut. State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and three towns, Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston, have sued to challenge the BIA's recognition process. At least one would-be politician, author Jeff Benedict, has run on the anti-Indian platform. Benedict, Blumenthal and the town fathers are aghast at the new recognition decision and are likely to appeal it. However, Benedict's political campaign fizzled recently while the reality of Indian sovereignty looks strong and permanent. Both of these trends bode well for the future of justice in Indian country.

The decision was equally interesting for the strong emphasis it gave to the fact of the state of Connecticut's recognition, which sustained the tribal links through periods otherwise difficult to document. The decision holds that the "longstanding state relationship and reservation are additional evidence" helping to prove that the historical Eastern Pequot are a tribe. According to the U.S. Department of Interior statement, the Eastern Pequot are descendants of early chiefs Harmon Garrett and Momoho, for whom the Colony of Connecticut purchased the Lantern Hill land ... in 1683.

Among other evidence, the tribe filed an 1873 petition to the state, and journals kept by tribal members documented attendance at meetings held regularly the fourth Sunday of every month for about 20 years and at annual picnics throughout the 1960s. Since the early 1900s, there has been an unbroken history of "state recognition and a reservation for this tribe." That the Interior Department has upheld the validity of state acknowledgement as evidence supporting petitions for federal recognition may have significance for two other state-recognized tribes in Connecticut, the Golden Hill Paugussetts, of Trumbull and the Schaghticokes of Kent, both of which have petitions pending before the BIA. (Like the eastern Pequots, the Schaghticokes are split in two feuding factions, both of which are seeking federal recognition.) And both of these tribes point to state recognition as part of the evidence that supports their claims of continuous existence as tribes.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation has supported the recognition of the Eastern Pequot. The Mohegans have as well. Interestingly, both of the nations that run major gaming enterprises welcome the possibility of other Indian-run casinos in their market region, asserting that there is enough volume in the area for more enterprises. Always lurking in the shadows, Donald Trump, who has reportedly invested heavily with the Paucatucks, may yet become a player in Indian gaming in the East.

We are gratified by this BIA decision. All American Indian tribes, small and large, deserve to be who they are, deserve to be recognized. Wherever a tribal people were dispossessed of their lands, their physical and their intellectual properties, we encourage that people's struggle to regain recognition and whatever legal and market advantage their proper jurisdictional status will bring them. We believe that the Indian tribal nations have a lot coming.

The Eastern Pequot, including the Paucatucks, are to be congratulated. Their combined efforts taken to the federal level achieved a great result for their tribal people. We hope their negotiations toward a united government and jurisdictional structure are fruitful. We could not agree more with Chairwoman Marcia Jones Flowers, when she stated: "Today's decision will give us our first access to the federal programs we need to help our people, to preserve our culture and to pass on our values and traditions to our children. These are and always have been our goals. ... We have many challenges ahead of us, but they are challenges we will all face together as a sovereign nation."

The tribe is exploring gaming enterprises along with other opportunities for manufacturing and tourism. As always, success will be greatly aided by policies that stress fairness to all families, accountability in all business and administration, acknowledgement of all current members, good planning and serious execution of enterprise. The key: strength in unity. We wish the Eastern Pequot Nation the best of everything possible.