WASHINGTON - The Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe of Trumbull, Conn., fell short of winning federal acknowledgment Jan. 22 but said it would continue working to fill in the gaps in its petition.
Aurene M. Martin, acting assistant Secretary of Interior - Indian Affairs, issued a proposed finding to decline federal recognition of the tribe. She said its application did not satisfy three of the seven mandatory criteria. In particular, she said the historical Golden Hill Indians "ceased to exist as a distinct community" after 1823.
Aurelius H. Piper Jr., also known as Chief Quiet Hawk, council chief of the tribe, replied in a statement, "This is disappointing, but we will move to fully address the technical question cited by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which deals with the period of time from 1800 to 1900.
"It's encouraging that the bulk of our application, some 48,000 documents covering 350 years, has withstood the scrutiny of the recognition process."
The negative finding was no surprise to close observers of Connecticut's tribal recognition scene, which is closely intertwined with casino economics and the political ambitions of several of the state's main elected officials. The BIA in December returned a proposed negative finding for the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, which shares some common roots with the Golden Hill Paugussetts.
The Golden Hill group has been the most aggressive in the state about making land claims, threatening homeowners in a wide swathe of south-central Connecticut with lawsuits against their titles. Much of the very visible state hostility toward tribal recognition can be traced to an early round of Golden Hill petitioning in 1992, which was rejected by then-BIA head Ada Deer several years later.
(Kevin Gover, later head of the BIA and now a columnist for Indian Country Today, acted as counsel for the Golden Hill Paugussetts during this period.)
In spite of the BIA coolness toward most recent petitions, the state backlash against the tribes continues apace. House Minority Leader Robert Ward, R-Northford, has introduced a bill to revoke state recognition of tribes without final federal recognition. It would apply not only to the Paugussetts and Schaghticokes but to the Historic Eastern Pequots, who received preliminary federal recognition last year.
The three tribes, as well as the federally recognized Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans, are members of the moribund Connecticut Indian Affairs Commission, set up by state legislation in 1973. Several of them, notably the Pequot tribes, also occupy reservations that were established before Independence by the Connecticut General Court, the colonial legislature.
Ward said the state legislature recognized the tribes in 1973 "as a courtesy" so they could apply for funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and did little research on them.
Connecticut's two U.S. Senators Christopher Dodd and Joseph I Lieberman, both Democrats, also sponsored an amendment in Congress last year to impose a moratorium on tribal recognitions. Only 11 other Senators voted for the measure, and two of them were defeated for re-election. Lieberman, vice-presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket in 2000, recently announced his candidacy for President. Dodd is also widely rumored to be considering a presidential run.
The Golden Hill Paugussetts said they would press on with their bid for federal recognition. According to Chief Quiet Hawk, they will use the six-month appeal period to shore up their petition.
"The Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut was initially rejected by the BIA but ultimately gained recognition," said Quiet Hawk. "This is despite the fact that the Tribe had disbanded for about 100 years starting in 1861, had no reservation, government or recognition by the State of Connecticut. We have a much stronger application in most respects."
Quiet Hawk said the Tribe's second priority is settling its aboriginal land claims in Connecticut, which approximate 720,000 acres in numerous cities and towns from Waterbury to Greenwich.
"Recognition and land claims are separate issues," he said. "A Connecticut court has already ruled that our Tribe has standing to litigate our land claims with or without federal recognition. A settlement should have happened long ago, but has not because of litigation and political interference."
The Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe filed for federal recognition in April 1982. In September 1996 the BIA declined to acknowledge the Tribe, a decision that was later reversed by the deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs.
The Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe filed land claims in several towns in 1992. A District Court judge ruled that the Paugussetts had no standing to bring the claims until they were recognized by the BIA, a decision that was overturned by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 1994. The Appeals Court asked the Paugussetts voluntarily to refrain from filing additional land claims for 180 days.
"This Tribe has waited patiently for the last eight years, being more than reasonable given what the Appeals Court asked for," said Quiet Hawk.
The BIA statement cited deficiencies in the tribal petition in three of the seven recognition criteria.
According to the release: "Since 1823, the evidence shows that the historical Golden Hill Indians ceased to exist as a distinct community, as required by criterion 83.7(b).
"Between 1802 and 1973, the evidence does not show an entity with an internal political process, as required by criterion 83.7(c). Since 1973, a few individuals formally organized into a more visible and active political entity. However, there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate significant social interaction within the group, or widespread support for or involvement in political processes.
"Thirdly, the petitioner does not meet the standard set by criterion 83.7(e). The petitioner has not shown that its membership consists of individuals who descend from a historical Indian tribe or tribes. There is insufficient evidence to verify that the petitioner's ancestors descended from a historical tribe. Although the petitioner submitted several membership lists, none are sufficient to meet the criterion."
Most recent tribal petitions have foundered on criteria (b) and (c), political and community continuity. The Paugussetts face a further hurdle on questions of genealogy. It is already involved in a dispute with the Schaghticokes over a claim to common ancestors.
The Schaghticokes led by Chief Richard Velky also face their own problems as they resubmit their petition. Velky's group is the larger faction of a bitterly split tribe with a 480-acre reservation in Kent. The families living on the reservation have filed a separate petition for recognition and after a physical altercation with Velky obtained a court injunction in effect keeping him off the tribal territory.