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Mashantuckets support Eastern Pequots

NORTH STONINGTON, Conn. -Just a few weeks before the Eastern Pequot Tribal
Nation held its annual pow wow on the fourth Sunday of July, the tribe got
a boost of support from its neighbors and relatives.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, whose reservation abuts the Eastern
Pequots' Lantern Hill reservation, passed a resolution supporting the
Eastern Pequots and urging the BIA to re-affirm its final decision of July
2002 to grant federal acknowledgement to the historic Eastern Pequot tribe.

The BIA decision was appealed by the state's attorney general and a number
of towns, and languished at the Department of the Interior Board of Indian
Appeals until May, when the appeals board vacated the BIA decision on both
the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of
Kent, Conn., sending them back for "further work and reconsideration."

The appeals were swept up in a surge of ferocious opposition, targeted
mainly against the Schaghticokes, by the governor, attorney general, the
state's congressional delegation and a group of wealthy anti-casino,
anti-sovereignty property owners in tony Litchfield County.

The Eastern Pequots' reconsidered final decision is due Sept. 12.

"The resolution is really a re-affirmation of a longstanding endorsement,"
said Mashantucket Chairman Michael Thomas.

"We've always strongly supported the Eastern Pequot Nation's efforts
because of our understanding, which is very clear, of the history of our
sister nation. We are related," Thomas said.

The Mashantuckets and the Eastern Pequots were historically one tribe some
time in the past and split into separate communities. Even the contemporary
Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation itself consisted of two factions - the Eastern
Pequot Tribe with around 1,000 members, and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots
with about 150 members - until the BIA acknowledged the two groups as one
tribe.

Tribal communities were fractured by colonial settlers and state laws that
aimed to divide and conquer the country's indigenous people.

"To some extent we do that to ourselves, and to a greater extent it's
imposed on us," Thomas said.

In issuing its resolution, the Mashantucket pointed out that the appeals
board's ruling to vacate the BIA's positive final decision is based
entirely on one claim: the "extremely narrow issue" using implicit state
recognition to bolster the evidence for continuous community and authority.

Thomas agreed with gaming and sovereignty opponents that the BIA process is
not sound - but for a different reason.

"I'm always amazed by the comments of state leaders who say, correctly,
that the system is broken and then suggest enhancements that actually make
it almost impossible for justifiable tribal government to overcome," Thomas
said. While everyone focuses on "meeting the criteria," Thomas suggested it
may be time to focus on justifying the criteria and making them realistic
and fair.

"For example, the BIA process talks about the continuity of tribal
government. You take small local governments, which is what tribes are, and
you subject them to attempted eradication by the most powerful government
ever to exist on the face of the planet and then you establish a continuity
standard so that if a state government is successful in breaking up a tribe
for even four of five years in the context of several hundred years, they
you don't meet today's definition of continuity. I don't know how anyone
can consider that justice," Thomas said.

That's what the Mashantucket want in the final, reconsidered decision,
Thomas said: "We're hopeful that that decision results in justice."

What happens if it doesn't? The battle will continue, he said.

"One of the beautiful things about America is that we will continue to
fight for justice and that opportunity will always be available to us and
we'll always take those opportunities to the court or to the Congress and,
in certain instances, to the presidential administration," Thomas said.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation owns and operates Foxwoods Casino.
The tribe turns over 25 percent of its slot machine revenues to the state.

In February, the Mashantucket celebrated the contribution of $2 billion in
direct payments to the state. The story was published on page eight of the
local newspaper, Thomas said.