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Northeast Woodlands Briefs

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COOLER HEADS PREVAIL ON INDIAN-BASHING BILLS

HARTFORD, Conn. -Attacks on tribal rights are playing better in
Connecticut's press than they do in the state's legislature.

The legislature's Judiciary Committee recently rejected a well publicized
bill designed, or so its sponsor thought, to prevent the newly recognized
Schaghticoke Tribal Nation from opening a casino. The bill would have
prohibited tribes from opening casinos outside of their original
reservations. In addition, it would have outlawed casinos within one mile
of a school.

The 400-acre Schaghticoke reservation in Kent, an upscale enclave in the
northwestern hills of the state, lies a short distance from the Kent
School, a prep school with a privileged clientele. In fact the STN tribal
government has filed land claims against some of the Kent School's grounds.

Critics in recent hearings doubted that the bill would survive court
scrutiny, but one backer, Sen. William H. Nickerson, R-Greenwich, called it
"common-sense legislation, which protects our schoolchildren and prevents a
proliferation of off-reservation casinos as has occurred in other states,
particularly California."

In the end, the Committee threw out the bill, preventing it from coming to
a vote.

Schaghticoke Chief Richard L. Velky responded, "The bill if passed, would
have been bad public policy whose sole intent was to deny the Schaghticoke
Tribal Nation rights the state supports and encourages for others. On
behalf of the tribe and our neighbors in Kent, we applaud those legislators
who opposed the bill."

Legislators also will not vote on a bill that would have prohibited state
funding for a bus service that takes low-income residents of Hartford to
jobs at Foxwoods casino 40 miles away. Its sponsor, Democratic State
Senator Edith Prague, withdrew the measure after learning from hearings
that the buses also took workers, including many former welfare recipients,
to jobs at other locations.

BENDING EARS AND FACTS

WASHINGTON - Interior Secretary Gale Norton heard an earful March 17 in a
meeting with Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a passionate
opponent of recognition for Connecticut tribes.

According to a statement Blumenthal released afterward, he asked Norton to
suspend all new tribal recognitions, including cases now before the
Interior Board of Indian Appeals. His immediate targets were the
Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, which received a positive acknowledgment Jan.
29 and the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, whose June 2002 recognition he is
appealing to the BIA.

Blumenthal based his argument on an internal memo from the Office of
Federal Acknowledgement, which he earlier called "a window on this rogue
agency, out of control, lawless, ready to twist and distort logic and law
in reaching a result driven by money and politics." The "smoking gun" memo
about the Schaghticoke recognition, he said, required a moratorium while
the Department of Justice investigated the decision. "Continuing to
tolerate the existing tribal recognition system - so obviously flawed and
infected by improper influences - threatens to cause irreparable and
irrevocable harm."

In spite of Blumenthal's rhetoric, denounced by Schaghticoke Chief Richard
Velky as "inflammatory" and an embarrassment to the state, the memo reads
as a straightforward request from OFA to the Assistant Interior Secretary
of Indian Affairs, then Aurene Martin, for guidance on two final issues on
the Schaghticoke petition. The one that set Blumenthal off concerned the
criteria for continuing political authority.

According to the memo, the Schaghticoke had narrowed the gap on continuing
political influence to two time periods, one from 1820 - 1840, which lacked
evidence, and one between 1892 and 1936, which showed "insufficient
evidence."

But OFA found mitigating circumstances. "The evidence for community during
the 1820 - 1840 period, based on a high rate of intermarriage within the
group, falls just short of the 50 percent necessary, under the regulations,
to demonstrate political influence without further, direct evidence."

In both periods, "the state relationship with them has been an active one,"
but "that activity (overseers, reservation maintenance, legislation and
appropriations) did not extend to direct dealings with Schaghticoke leaders
or consultation with the group on group matters."

The memo called the situation unique and suggested that the Assistant
Secretary could "acknowledge the Schaghticoke under the regulations despite
the two historical periods with little or no direct political evidence,
based on the continual state relationship with a reservation and the
continuity of a well-defined community throughout its history." It observed
that even though the previous recognition of the Eastern Pequots had not
relied on the state relationship, going this route would not call into
question any previous rejections because no unsuccessful applicant had
shown the Schaghticoke's "clear continuity as a community" as well as their
continued occupation of a reservation.

The future impact, it said, would be limited to "no more than six other
historically state recognized tribes with a continuously existing state
reservation which have not yet been considered for acknowledgment."

The memo did mention a factor that weighs heavily with Connecticut
politicians, "Acknowledgment of the Schaghticoke would give them standing
in the current litigation to proceed with their Non-Intercourse Act land
claim."

Even more extensive land claims were filed over a decade ago by another of
the pending petitioners, the Golden Hill Paugussett tribe. Since those
suits targeted thousands of private landowners, they left raw emotions that
underlie the state's anti-Indian political rhetoric.

Washington officials appeared to take Blumenthal's complaints with more
than a little skepticism. Blumenthal himself described his meeting with
Norton as "spirited and frank."