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Factions seek a voice in Schaghticoke appeal

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Attorneys for the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation said that a request for friend of the court status from six individuals who are not enrolled with the nation is ''full of scandalous allegations and wild mischaracterizations of fact and law,'' and should be denied.

The request for standing in the STN's appeal of the BIA's reversal of its federal acknowledgement was filed June 22 in U.S. District Court by Theodore Cogswell Jr.; his brother, Truman Cogswell Sr.; and Truman Cogswell's daughters, Donna Cogswell Rymer and Robin Cogswell.

Alan Russell, who claims chairmanship of the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe, and his sister, Gail Harrison, joined the Cogswells. Their brief supports the Interior Board of Indian Appeal's ''decision to vacate the [BIA's] Final Determination to acknowledge the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation exists as an Indian Tribe within the meaning of federal law.''

The Schaghticoke Indian Tribe changed its name to the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation at a membership meeting in 1991 when it formed a nonprofit corporation, according to BIA documents.

The BIA granted the nation federal acknowledgement in January 2004 then reversed its decision in a reconsidered final determination in October 2005, following an appeal by Connecticut elected officials working in tandem with a self-described ''under the radar'' lobbying campaign Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, the White House-connected, global-reaching Republican lobbyist, according to documents received under Freedom of Information requests and court orders.

STN appealed in January 2006, naming several Interior officials and alleging violations of due process, unlawful political influence and congressional interference.

The group of six repeated in their current brief issues they raised as interveners in the STN's federal acknowledgement process, including, among others, an allegation against STN Chief Richard Velky's Harris family lineage, the Harrises being one of the tribe's three core families; that the Cogswells were ''eliminated'' from the tribe; that invalid elections took place; and that they represent ''42 un-enrolled members.''

They ask the court to ''dismantle'' both the tribal council and Velky's status as chief and set up an election for a new chief and council; to require tribal members to resubmit documentation or take a DNA test; and to allow the tribe to write a new Constitution and bylaws.

The group's arguments and evidence ''already have been fully considered and rejected by [the BIA]'' because the agency did not rely on them in its decision-making process, STN attorney Thomas Murphy, of Cowdery, Ecker and Murphy, wrote in a response filed July 11.

''Moreover, full of scandalous allegations and wild mischaracterizations of fact and law, the amicus brief would only cause confusion, increase the administrative burden on the Court and the parties, and risk significant prejudice to [STN]. The Court should deny the motion,'' Murphy wrote.

The four Cogswells withdrew from STN in 2000 - '01, according to BIA documents.

The 300-member tribe includes around 40 Cogswells, including a tribal councilor, according to BIA documents.

Trudie Lamb Richmond, a Cogswell, an STN elder and a former tribal nation chairman well known for her work in anthropology and storytelling, responded in a BIA document in 2002 to the same issues raised in a ''Cogswell Family Interview'' by the attorney for the town of Kent, which opposed STN's quest for federal acknowledgement.

Lamb Richmond said that the brothers - her cousins - have lived out of state for most of their adult life and were out of the loop on tribal activities and events since the 1950s.

''It is important to note that the Cogswell brothers withdrew their membership from the STN because they were not pleased with the way things were going. Therefore, they have chosen to fight outside of the tribe rather than within the tribe. But it also determines the way they view specific issues,'' Lamb Richmond wrote.

The Cogswells could not be reached by phone for comment.

Russell and Harrison withdrew their STN membership documents in the late 1990s when asked to resubmit copies with notarized seals, a requirement for all members, according to BIA documents.

Russell was chairman at one point during the tribe's turbulent 1980s, and later was recalled. There were allegations of illegal meetings and fake votes, a lawsuit and, at one point, two councils. The issues were resolved when the state Freedom of Information Commission upheld the legitimacy of an election in 1985 in which Russell was ousted, according to court documents.

In a deposition taken March 16, 1987, in a case involving Russell's unauthorized logging on the reservation, Russell himself testified that he had been ousted.

''I was tribal chairman. I lost my position there. I wanted to be elected again as tribal chairman. In July 1985, [Irving Harris, uncle of the current chief,] became the tribal chairman,'' Russell said.

As an intervener in STN's recognition process with access to all documents, Russell copied STN's petition and submitted it as a separate petition for SIT.

Reached by phone July 16, Indian Country Today asked Russell to clarify why he supported the reversal of the STN's federal acknowledgement while SIT's exact same petition for acknowledgment is pending - a position that would seem to undermine his own bid for federal recognition. Russell said he could not comment.

The tribal nation awaits court rulings on this and several other briefs.