KENT, Conn. -- The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation has asked a federal judge to
restore the tribe's federal acknowledgement, citing violations of due
process and improper political influence by Connecticut politicians in
overturning the BIA's recognition decision.
"Connecticut's political establishment has claimed for years that the
federal recognition process was broken. The truth is they destroyed any
fairness left in the process. The attorney general and other Connecticut
political leaders worked in concert with Washington, D.C. lobbyists to
infect the process," said Schaghticoke Chief Richard Velky.
The 32-page lawsuit, filed Jan. 12 in U.S. District Court in New Haven,
names as defendants the Department of the Interior, Interior Secretary Gale
Norton, Interior Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason, the BIA, the
Office of Federal Acknowledgement and the Interior Board of Indian Appeals.
State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the Schaghticoke appeal
"seems to have no new facts or issues. Based on our analysis, we will
decide in the coming weeks on the best course to fight this futile and
The tribe is asking U.S. District Judge Peter Dorsey to restore the BIA's
final determination in January 2004 to grant federal recognition to the
The decision propelled Blumenthal, Gov. Jodi Rell, the state's
congressional delegation, local town officials and an anti-Indian,
anti-casino group of Kent property owners called TASK (Town Action to Save
Kent) to launch an overdrive campaign to rescind the tribe's federal
In an unprecedented action, the BIA reversed itself on Columbus Day last
October, notifying the tribe by fax that it now failed to meet some of the
criteria for federal acknowledgment that it had previously fulfilled.
Velky said the appeal describes the "arbitrary and capricious actions"
taken by the bureau and Interior Department and "the framework through
which Blumenthal and D.C. lobbyists worked to overturn our recognition."
The hard-hitting appeal alleges that the defendants breached their federal
trust obligation to the tribe, "violated their own regulations, disregarded
prior precedent, ignored evidence submitted by the Schaghticoke Tribal
Nation, and allowed their decisions to be based on political influences
from state and federal government officials and others rather than solely
on the administrative record."
The brief argues that the BIA violated the Administrative Procedures Act by
changing the acknowledgement process in 2000 without the required notice
and comment period.
The brief further argues, among other things, that the OFA acted
capriciously and arbitrarily in at least two instances by advising the
tribe on how to approach issues, and then changing the rules after the
tribe had followed the advice.
One instance dealt with a small faction of Schaghticoke who refuse to
enroll in the tribal nation. The OFA advised the tribe to encourage the
unenrolled members to join, and to change its constitution to allow new
members to enroll. The tribe followed the advice. In its positive decision,
the BIA interpreted the factional rivalry as evidence of continuous
community. When it reversed its decision, the BIA said the few members who
refused to enroll indicated a lack of continuous community.
In another instance, according to the brief, the OFA advised the tribe on
how to present evidence of marriage rates for certain periods in the 19th
century. The evidence was accepted as part of the final positive
determination; but after political pressure from the officials and
lobbyists, the OFA wrote a letter saying it had made a mistake in
calculation. The letter was sent three days after a filing deadline, which
prevented the tribe from responding to the change.
The lawsuit also contends that Connecticut officials used the Washington
lobbying firm of Perkins Coie, and TASK lobbying firm Barbour, Griffith &
Rogers to circumvent a stipulation in a court ruling that prohibited any of
the parties from contacting Interior officials without prior notice to all
In an e-mail dated Jan. 7, 2005, which was released to tribal attorneys
during depositions last summer, BGR Chief Operating Officer Loren Monroe
wrote to TASK co-founders Jim Perkins and Ken Cooper about an upcoming
meeting with Rell.
"The purpose of the meeting(s) in Hartford from our point of view is to
refine the political strategies and to ensure tight coordination of the
implementation of such strategies among the Governor, the congressional
delegation, and local officials. Importantly, the political efforts must
also be coordinated with the legal strategy being led by the attorney
general and Perkins Coie, which we are working to make sure occurs in
Washington," Monroe wrote.
Monroe then outlined a number of "strategies of surrounding the Department
of Interior with regards to the BIA." They included lobbying of the
confirmation hearing for the deputy secretary of Interior, the budget
hearings for Interior's 2007 fiscal year, the Senate Indian Affairs
Committee hearings on the Jack Abramoff scandal and "Indian tribe
lobbying," and contacting senior White House and agency officials at
Washington events such as the National Governors Association and the
Republican Governors Association annual meetings.
BGR would further serve as the governor's "megaphone" in Washington,
"making sure her efforts are coordinated with the delegation [and]
supporting her outreach within the administration," Monroe wrote.
Monroe warned the TASK founders to be circumspect.
"As always, please be careful what you put on paper when you send it as
documents often make it to the press," Monroe wrote, noting that BGR's
registration as TASK's lobbyist had recently been picked up by a Beltway
These actions by TASK's lobbyists and state officials "shaped and tainted
the administrative process in a manner that has violated the STN's right to
due process at law," the brief states.
Velky noted with irony BGR's concern with the Abramoff scandal and "Indian
Abramoff, a former powerhouse Republican lobbyist accused of bilking six
Indians tribes out of more than $80 million, pleaded guilty in early
January to corruption, mail fraud and tax evasion charges.
"I can only say at this point that through the recent research, through
discovery and the subpoenas we started to put together last summer, a
pattern of behavior and activities is emerging among the Connecticut
officials that would mirror the same kind of activities in Washington with
Abramoff," Velky said.
The tribe has asked the court to order Interior to reinstate its federal
acknowledgement or, alternately, give the matter to a magistrate judge or
"special master" to make a determination.