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Schaghticoke factions continue ongoing feud

KENT, Conn. -- Two days before a rival faction of the Schaghticoke Tribal
Nation claimed to take over control of the Schaghticoke reservation, a
lawyer that has represented the group for more than five years quit.

Attorney Michael J. Burns, of Hartford, filed a motion in U.S. District
Court in Hartford on Dec. 27, seeking the court's permission to stop
representing a group called the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe, which is led by
Chairman Alan Russell.

Burns said his client has "failed to pay well over $70,000 in attorney
fees."

Burns, who is a solo practitioner, cited two legal Rules of Professional
Conduct to justify his withdrawal: a situation in which continued
representation would financially harm an attorney or in which
representation has been rendered unreasonably difficult by the client.

"The unreasonable financial burden has certainly been demonstrated in this
situation; and representation has been rendered unreasonably difficult by
the client, as well," Burns said in his motion.

Two days later, on Dec. 29, Russell and a group of his supporters,
including another attorney -- Kevin Quill, of Long Island, N.Y. -- who says
he has represented Russell's faction for more than a year, claimed
authority over the pavilion and office on the 400-acre reservation on
Schaghticoke Mountain that has been used by the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation
for years.

"This reservation belongs to all Schaghticoke. We want to start our
economic development program here," Russell said.

Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Chief Richard Velky said Russell's actions were
likely a response to comments he, Velky, made in an opinion piece published
in The Washington Post a week earlier in which he said the tribal nation
plans to "aggressively" develop the reservation.

Velky said he learned that something was happening at the reservation
around mid-morning when he received an anonymous phone call advising him to
go to the reservation.

He asked the tribal nation's vice chairman, Michael Pane, to check it out.
When Pane arrived at the reservation around mid-day, he said he found the
door to the bathroom smashed, the office door locks drilled off, and
Russell and a group of his supporters on site.

Pane said he fetched a police officer to return to the reservation solely
to witness what had happened and to observe while Pane removed some items
belonging to Schaghticoke Tribal Nation members from the office.

"I had no any intention of getting anyone arrested -- that's not our thing.
We want to be a sovereign nation, but as long as this stuff keeps
happening," Pane said, his voice trailing. He added that he found Russell's
group "disappointing."

The incident is the latest in a long-running feud between the Schaghticoke
Tribal Nation and the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe centering on authority over
the land.

The last incident happened after the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation received
federal recognition in January 2004. Russell and a friend, Michael Rost,
allegedly hauled approximately 50 tons of rocks and boulders onto the
reservation and piled them in front of and around the pavilion.

The incident resulted in Rost being charged with risk of injury to a minor.
A charge against Russell is pending in a state Superior Court.

The feud dates to the 1970s, when alliances formed along the lines of the
three historic Schaghticoke families over leadership and reservation
development issues.

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The 300-member tribal nation's federal recognition was reversed last
October after more than a year of ferocious opposition by state officials
and a local citizens group that hired a lobbying firm with close
connections to the White House and indicted former GOP lobbyist Jack
Abramoff.

Russell's group was named an intervener in the process.

Russell; his sister, Gail Harrison, who is vice chairman of the
Schaghticoke Indian Tribe; and Harrison's sons live on the reservation.
They claim the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe is the authentic Schaghticoke
tribe. The faction included 42 people, some of whom have since withdrawn,
according to the BIA's reconsidered final determination of the Schaghticoke
Tribal Nation's petition.

The BIA found that all of the members of the tribal nation and Russell's
group are descendants of the historical Schaghticoke Indians. The reversed
decision cited members of the Russell faction's refusal to enroll in the
larger group as a failure of continuous community.

As an intervener, Russell's group had access to the Schaghticoke Tribal
Nation's petition and all other documents filed in the process. In 2001,
Russell filed a letter of intent to petition for federal recognition, and
subsequently filed the tribal nation's petition, claiming it as their own.
The petition is pending.

Quill confirmed that the petition was indeed the same one filed by the
Schaghticoke Tribal Nation in 1998, but "it belongs to my client," he said.

Burns did not return a phone call seeking further details about withdrawing
his representation of Russell's group.

Russell told Indian Country Today Jan. 3 that he did not know Burns had
stopped representing him because "I haven't been to the post office."
Russell then hung up.

Quill, Russell's other attorney, said he had met Burns, but did not work
with him. Asked if he was working for Russell on a pro bono basis, Quill
said, "They haven't paid me anything yet. I'm working with the tribe. I'm
not going to disclose anything beyond that."

Quill said he went to the reservation on Dec. 29 at Russell's request.

"My client asked me to be there, and we went there and we informed the
police that we were going there because they were afraid the property was
going to be damaged because Velky and his people had taken certain
liberties with the property," Quill said.

The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation has used and maintained the pavilion and
office for years. According to the electric company, the office electric
bill has been in Velky's name and paid by him since he became chief in
1987.

Velky and Pane called the incident an orchestrated media event to distract
the tribal nation from focusing on its appeal of the BIA's reversal.

"Allan and his group are missing the big picture. We have far more
important issues than this stuff. We'll deal with this stuff at a later
date," Pane said.

Velky dismissed Russell's claim to have taken over the reservation.

"How can somebody take over something they always had the right to use? If
Alan Russell [...] had the courtesy to ask for a key to use the pavilion
for the weekend, they would have gotten one," Velky said.