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News from the Northeast

Chief Ralph W. Sturges inducted into Connecticut Hall of Fame

MOHEGAN NATION, Conn. - The late Mohegan Tribe Chief Ralph W. Sturges, also known by his Native name G;tinemong (He Who Helps Thee), has been honored posthumously with an induction into the Connecticut Hall of Fame.

A ceremony sponsored by the Connecticut General Assembly took place in Hartford June 18.

Paul Sturges, surrounded by his family, accepted the honor for his father. Mohegan Chairman Bruce ''Two Dogs'' Bozsum, members of the tribal council, the Council of Elders, and various tribal members also attended the ceremony along with several state senators and representatives.

''Chief Sturges was a mentor to me and to many other Mohegans,'' Bozsum said. ''This honor goes even further to ensure that his legacy in Connecticut and among the tribe will never be forgotten.''

Sturges was born in New London in 1918 and died in 2007. He served as a security and intelligence officer during World War II. He was a marble sculptor, which placed him in a long line of Mohegan carvers who were also chiefs. Mohegan chiefs hold the position for a lifetime.

He was a leader in the tribe's efforts to gain federal acknowledgment, which happened in 1994, and in the process that resulted in the tribe's establishment of Mohegan Sun, which is one of the most successful Native-owned and operated casino resorts in the world.

The Connecticut Hall of Fame salutes current or former residents of the state who have distinguished themselves in their profession and performed outstanding service to the state and to the nation. The hall is located on the second floor of the Legislative Office Building.

Inducted along with Sturges were the late baseball legend and civil rights advocate Jackie Robinson; Harry J. Gray, CEO and chairman of United Technologies and major benefactor for Hartford Hospital's cancer center; and the late Marian Anderson, ''Connecticut's Voice of Freedom,'' the first black singer to perform at the Metropolitan Opera.

Mashantucket Pequot chairman in custody battle

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - A jurisdictional tug of war between a tribal court and a state court is playing out in a custody case between the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation chairman and a New York woman who is the mother of their daughter.

A tribal court upheld MPTN Chairman Michael Thomas's child custody rights at a hearing June 11, granting some visiting rights to the child's mother, Vanessa Hyman, of New Rochelle, N.Y., according the his attorneys.

The hearing came after a family court in New York issued a warrant for Thomas' arrest, for failing to return the child to her mother. Hyman said Thomas took the child for a routine visit May 17 and was supposed to return her the next day, but did not.

Linda Mariani, Thomas' attorney, said the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court granted Thomas custody of his daughter in February in proceedings that began in 2004, according to an Associated Press report. She also cited a New York Supreme Court ruling issued in January 2007 that upheld an earlier tribal court custody order granting Thomas sole legal and physical custody of the girl, according to the report.

Tribal Court Judge Thomas Londregan continued the court's order giving Thomas physical custody of his daughter, also ordering that Hyman's visits to her daughter be under the supervision of Child Protective Services, and that she be allowed to speak with her daughter on the phone nightly. He further ordered that Hyman undergo a psychological evaluation. Hyman said there are ''no grounds for me to have a psychological evaluation,'' according to the AP.

Joshua Katz, the attorney representing Hyman, said it was impossible for his client to get a fair trial in the tribal court, given Thomas' standing within the tribe, so she turned to the New York family court, according to the report.

The jurisdiction is ''clearly in Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court,'' Mariani told Indian Country Today.

''The way in which Ms. Hyman obtained orders in New York was by making a false affidavit stating that no other custody action was pending in any other jurisdiction. In actuality, Ms. Hyman had already tried this with the Supreme Court of the State of New York and the matter was dismissed with the court pointedly finding that the proper jurisdiction for any issues regarding this child was the tribal court at Mashantucket.''

In making her case, Hyman also claimed that the child was not Native and not subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act, ''which is a ridiculous claim since she has acknowledged that Chairman Thomas, who is clearly a tribal member, is the father and she has accepted thousands and thousands of dollars in child support from him,'' Mariani said.

Thomas has retained legal counsel in New York to have the family court matter vacated and the arrest warrant dismissed.

Narragansett leaders sentenced to community service in smokeshop case

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Narragansett Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas was sentenced to spend 150 hours educating children in the public schools about the tribe's history as a result of a notorious raid by state police and their attack dogs on the tribe's smokeshop that ended in a violent brawl five years ago.

The June 19 sentencing capped a six-week trial by a 12-member jury that found Thomas and two other tribal members guilty of simple assault against state troopers. Four other tribal members were acquitted of all charges. The jury also cleared all of the tribal members on 12 other misdemeanor charges.

Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl also ordered First Councilman Randy Noka to 25 hours of community service in the schools.

The cases will be held for one year and then dismissed if there are no other incidents.

A third council member, Hiawatha Brown, was ordered to get anger management counseling, and was given a one-year suspended sentence with probation for assault and a six-month suspended sentence with probation for disorderly conduct.

''It is what it is,'' Matthews told the media outside the courtroom after the sentencing. ''We thought the law was on our side. We got ruled against. Whatever the judge decides we were at her mercy. We knew that that's the way it goes. The tribe's got to have some kind of understanding with the state. We are the original people here and people have to respect that, whether they like it or not.''

Noka told the judge he regretted what happened that day.

''Frankly, it's sad that it [education about the tribe] has to be ordered. It should be the schools asking the tribe to come in,'' he said.

The Narragansetts opened their tax-free smokeshop July 12, 2003, over Gov. Donald Carcieri's objections. The night before the raid, tribal leaders and the governor discussed the issue, agreeing that it would be settled in court, according to Doug Luckerman, one of the tribe's attorneys. There was no mention of a police raid on the smokeshop, he noted, but the raid took place the next day and devolved into a scuffle that was televised nationwide. The police claimed the sale of tax-free cigarettes was illegal and shut down the shop.

But tribal members testified during the trial that they believed operating the smokeshop was legal under the assumption that the tribe had the sovereign right to do it. The 1st Circuit Court has not yet ruled in support of the state's claim that the tribe has minimal, if any, sovereignty because of a decades-old land claims settlement act.

Michael Healey, a spokesman for the governor, said, ''I think the chief virtue of this case is that it's now over.''