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Schaghticoke files human rights complaints against state agencies

HARTFORD, Conn. - After months of seeking state protection, the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation has filed complaints of human rights violations against three state agencies for refusing to help stop the desecration and destruction of tribal property.

The complaints were filed with the state;s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities in April and May. Two complaints were filed by STN Chief Richard Velky against state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's office and the Department of Environmental Protection. A third was filed by tribal council member Joseph Velky Jr., the chief's nephew, against the Connecticut State Police.

The complaints charge that the agencies are violating human rights and state statutes by ''not enforcing the state laws to protect our tribal property, because the respondent [DEP] doesn't want to recognize the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation as a Native American entity. My complaints about destruction of tribal property are being ignored because I am a member of a Native American tribe.''

Joseph Velky Jr.'s complaint says the law enforcement agency refused to put his complaint in writing.

All three stage agencies have refused to help, claiming that a ''tribal leadership dispute'' prevents them from intervening to protect the land.

Velky said the state is claiming a leadership dispute in order to ''divide and conquer.''

According to Velky's complaint, the issue began in 2004 when the DEP ''allowed Michael Rost (Caucasian) to damage our longhouse when Mr. Rost brought large boulders onto tribal property, and hit the longhouse with his machines. The longhouse is used for our religious ceremonies on our reservation in Kent, Conn.'' The DEP holds the STN's 400-acre reservation on Schaghticoke Mountain in trust for the tribe.

Rost began that action in 2004 soon after the BIA federally acknowledged the 300-member STN. The acknowledgement was later revoked in an unprecedented action by the BIA after a coordinated campaign of opposition by Blumenthal, other elected officials and the powerful White House-connected lobbyist Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, according to the tribe's Administrative Procedures Act appeal, which is pending in federal district court.

Last November, Velky learned that Rost was at it again.

''Our land was desecrated and damaged again; trees were cut and stacked, dirt was excavated, a stream of water was diverted, and two old house foundations were dismantled (including any possible gravesites at these houses),'' Velky wrote.

''This destruction is not a tribal dispute, since Mr. Rost is not a tribal member, nor has he been given permission to undertaken construction by any member of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation.''

On the chief's request, Joseph Velky Jr. complained to Matt Fritz, chief of staff for DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy, that ''someone who is not Native American and without tribal government authorization was damaging tribal property'' and that it was DEP's responsibility under statute ''to enforce our tribal authority.'' Fritz responded that he was working with Blumenthal ''to figure out who is the governing body of our tribe.''

Rost continued to excavate land for several months amid reports that he was selling timber from the reservation, and had unearthed and kept Native artifacts, Velky wrote. The chief also worried that burial sites were being desecrated.

Joseph Velky Jr.'s dozens of e-mails to the state agencies resulted in a response that the governor's office ''could not work with him or discuss tribal land issues with him,'' according to his complaint. ''This refusal to cooperate, upon information and belief, was directed by the state of Connecticut attorney general's office.''

A ''tribal leadership dispute'' between Velky and his cousin, Allan Russell, who lived on the reservation until the last week in February when his house burned down, has been ongoing for decades, according to BIA and court documents. Russell claims the leadership of the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe, a group of about a dozen people comprised largely of his immediate family.

The Schaghticoke Indian Tribe filed its letter of intent to petition for recognition in 1981. The tribe changed its name to Schaghticoke Tribal Nation at a membership meeting in 1991. In 1993, STN formed a nonprofit corporation and filed its documented petition in 1994. The BIA considered Russell's ''faction'' as non-enrolled members of the STN's base community when it acknowledged STN in its final determination issued Jan. 29, 2004.

The state agencies are intimately familiar with the tribe's ''leadership dispute'' because the attorney general was an intervener opposing the nation's federal recognition.

Former DEP Commissioner Arthur Rocque acknowledged Chief Richard Velky in 2000 as the head of the Schaghticoke tribe and said he would continue to do so until a successful legal challenge to Velky's position.

Fritz acknowledged that there has been no legal, documented challenge to Velky's leadership.

There has, however, been a regime change at DEP. Gov. Jodi Rell, who took over in 2004 when former Gov. John Rowland was ousted in a corruption scandal, fired most of the incumbent commissioners and installed new ones. Rocque left the DEP at that time.

Last fall, a ''leadership dispute'' broke out between Russell and his sister, Gail Harrison, who claimed to have ousted Russell and taken over the ''chairmanship'' of the faction. Russell counterclaimed she had not, according to DEP documents released in a Freedom of Information Act request.

Russell originally brought Rost onto the reservation in 2004. Both men were charged with criminal violations in connection with the boulders Rost brought to the reservation at that time.

The attorney general's office gives credence to Russell and Harrison's claims of ''leadership,'' however.

''Mr. Rost verbally informed Edward Sarabia, Indian affairs coordinator of the DEP, that the SIT leaders had authorized his activity in 2004 and that he had the authority of the new SIT leader to perform the 2007 activity,'' the attorney general's office wrote in response to the complaints.