Following a number of would-be exposes published in The Wall Street Journal and the constant direct attacks put forth by radio and TV personalities such as Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson, some Connecticut politicians are raising their anti-Indian ante. The blue-bloods in that state are unrelenting in wanting to shut down Indian gaming, which is nevertheless wildly popular and lucrative, both for the tribes and for the state.
There is a spate of Connecticut politicians apparently intent on generating a new termination movement against Native nations. They are as aggressive as they are single-minded, and as simple-minded as they are virulent. They don't always agree on strategies, but are united in their intent to shut down as much Indian economic enterprise as possible, even though it is precisely Indian gaming that has kept Connecticut afloat for the past several years.
Recently, pursuing strategic steps to try to destroy legal bases of Indian gaming, they went as far as to de-legitimize the revenue base of numerous charities and churches in their own state of Connecticut, when they successfully outlawed the popular "Las Vegas Nights." Charities and churches lost revenues amounting to some $50 million due to the new measure.
Now, state legislators, House Minority Leader Robert Ward, R-North Branford, and Assistant Minority Leader John Frey, R-Ridgefield, claiming that earlier state recognitions were not well-researched and perhaps of dishonest purpose, have introduced legislation that would go back in history to disavow state recognition of several tribes. According to Ward, lawmakers did little research in 1973 when they recognized five tribes "as a courtesy." He asserted to the media that the state recognized the tribes in order to qualify for funding from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development. Because of the poor research (and, we suggest, negative purpose), Ward says that the federal government should not rely on Connecticut lawmakers' recognition decisions. The bill would apply also to the Historic Eastern Pequots, who received preliminary federal recognition last year.
Connecticut is on a bender when it comes to Indians flexing economic muscle. Not long ago, it was Democratic Senators Christopher Dodd and Joseph Lieberman, trying to stampede the Senate Indian Affairs committee into paralyzing the national tribal recognition process. The two would be presidential nominees' irresponsibly self-serving act was soundly defeated, but it provided insight into the type of extreme political hay that is harvested when bashing Indians in Connecticut. Then, of course, on the not-to-be-outdone scale, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, another Democrat, has been scathing in his pursuit of an Indian-free Connecticut.
But even Blumenthal, who led the charge to repeal the "Las Vegas Nights" Act and who has fought all Indian recognitions tooth and nail, has doubts about the latest move by the two Connecticut state politicians in their brazen attempt to go back in history to revoke earlier state recognition of several tribes. His motivation: Blumenthal is concerned that the anti-Indian measure will create sympathy for the tribes. He commends Ward for his good intentions but recognizes the overtones of retaliation and discrimination inherent in the bill could backfire. Ward says outrightly that he hopes by revoking state recognition, the tribes' various bids for federal recognition might be thwarted.
The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of Kent and the Golden Hill Paugussetts are directly affected by the move, as are the Historic Eastern Pequots of North Stonington. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs denied recognition for the Paugussetts and rejected the Schaghticokes' petition in the past few weeks. Under the new law, both would have to start their state recognition process over again. The Historic Eastern Pequots received preliminary federal recognition last year. By repealing the state's recognition of tribes that have not won final recognition from the federal government, the legislators want to turn back the clock; presumably, the federal government would do the same. The Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans, both federally recognized, are not affected by the legislation. They both operate casinos in New London County.
One important point: with this bill, it seems, the Connecticut legislators want to go back on their own lawmaking. If in fact, as Ward claims, Connecticut recognized the tribes in order to qualify for federal subsidies, does this not constitute intent to defraud the federal government on the state's part? Has Connecticut in fact not facilitated untold millions in federal dollars without actual legal merit?
We continue to be appalled by the tone and apparently growing range of the media attack on American Indians. Beware: this is not a question of raising critiques about abuses of policy and practice on the part of one or another tribal government; these are about citing specific instances that could be scrutinized fairly and then using these to attack the whole construction of Indian rights.
The most recent blast comes from Tucker Carlson, co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," and a regular columnist for the Reader's Digest. In the current issue of that most widely disseminated of magazines, he reduces the whole idea of Indian land claims to "blackmail" on current landowners. As always, complex and very real legal issues of fraudulent land taking in the past, many with long histories in various courts of law, including the U.S. Supreme Court, are described as attempts to punish innocent people for what "their long-dead relatives did."
We sure would like to offer Mr. Carlson the opportunity to debate well-versed Native spokespeople on this issue of land claims and the contemporary, and yet incipient, Indian economic recovery. We condemn the pieces of legislation introduced by Ward and Frey. These seek to rewrite history and manipulate law for already difficult cases. Theirs is a targeted and hateful approach to lawmaking and thus despicable. It is the worst type of lawmaking for legislatures to be selectively targeting their tribal constituents retroactively, even attempting to revoke earlier legislative processes, which, as described, would seem to have then been fraudulently conceived by the state itself. To twist public policy and legal construct just to disadvantage your perceived adversary may sell in turbulent times, but it is not good democratic tradition.
We agree with Attorney General Richard Blumenthal that the proposed legislation "carries overtones of retaliation and discrimination." It is retaliatory. It is discriminatory. Although Blumenthal himself has contributed much to this disturbing intolerance, we hope he is right that this legislation will backfire and create sympathy for the Connecticut tribes on the federal level.