Pequot recognition gets confused

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HARTFORD, Conn. - Awarding federal recognition to a tribe today has been elevated to the level of political warfare within a state and among tribes.

Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover told the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs the BIA no longer wants that job and said it should go to a panel within the Department of Interior.

The case of two would-be federally recognized tribes in Connecticut is a prime example. With federal recognition, the Eastern Pequots and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots could apply for Class III gaming and open casinos.

The BIA wants to combine the two into one, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal wants more information about the process and town leaders in North Stonington asked for Congressional help to determine the validity of the federal recognition process. Gov. John Rowland said he wanted help.

The multi-layered controversy takes on a different bent depending who is offering the information. Gov. Rowland is concerned he will have to renegotiate gaming compacts with the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots. Those two tribes together dump $300 million a year into the state coffers, 25 percent of their slot-machine revenues.

"What I'm trying to do is get some experts involved that understand these issues because it's very complicated. It's not your average run-of-the mill legal education. You've got to find people with expertise and knowledge of these issues," Rowland said.

He added that at one time negotiations were easy. The tribe agreed to get rid of the land claims and give the state 25 percent.

Without help he will not negotiate gaming compacts with any of the tribes, he said.

The BIA has issued preliminary recognition approval, but Gover questioned recognition of both Pequot tribes and said he found it distasteful the two were in the middle of a heritage battle that at times became caustic on both sides. The Paucatuck Eastern Pequots lay claim to being the white tribe and the Eastern Pequot tribe are black and Portuguese.

In the application process, both tribes claimed to be descended from the Easter Pequot Nation. Gover admitted it was one of the strongest petitions seen while he has been in office.

The two tribes have been on the outs since the 1930s. In the 1970s the dissension ended with the creation of the Paucatucks. Both share a reservation at Lantern Hill. Gover questioned whether the BIA had the authority to recognize a tribe that came into existence in the 1970s.

Another question local town officials want answered is the process the BIA used. Officials claim the BIA failed to used dependency as part of the criteria, and instead, used social, cultural, political and economic ties to the reservation.

Arguments from the Paucatucks and the town officials claim the state placed indigent families on the Lantern Hill reservation and the names of those people ended up on the rolls of the Eastern Pequots as among people who received state aid.

The towns of North Stonington, Ledyard and Preston opposed the recognition process and officials criticized the BIA for excluding them from the process.

The BIA claimed the additional names were not relevant because any lineage came directly from the Eastern Pequot.

When the preliminary ruling was announced, the BIA stated the two tribes, which share the 224-acre reservation, "maintained a continuous historical government to government relationship with the state since colonial times."

The Eastern Pequots have been on the reservation for more than 300 years and have had members listed on the federal census since 1900, the BIA said in its report.

No decision will be made for a few months. Both tribes have been denied federal recognition in the past.