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Schaghticoke pursue BIA documents

KENT, Conn. -- The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation has asked a federal judge to
order the BIA to release the documents and administrative record used in
making its reconsidered final determination to reverse the tribe's federal
acknowledgement.

In a brief filed Dec. 14 with Connecticut's U.S. District Court Judge Peter
Dorsey, tribal attorneys said the BIA has violated the judge's May 2001
scheduling order which details the timelines, procedures and process by
which the tribe's petition for federal acknowledgement and any subsequent
appeal would take place.

One of the scheduling order's provisions requires the BIA to provide the
tribe and all parties with all of the materials used in reaching its final
determination within 30 days after issuing its decision.

On Dec. 2, almost two months after Interior Department Associate Deputy
Secretary James Cason reversed the tribe's federal acknowledgement in a
reconsidered final determination, the BIA refused the tribe's request for
the documents. The bureau took the position that the tribe is not entitled
to an updated copy of the Federal Acknowledgement Information Resources
database until after it files an appeal with the court.

The BIA's position is "a waste of the tribe's time and resources,"
Schaghticoke Chief Richard Velky told Indian Country Today.

"It was enough of an insult to be informed by fax that our acknowledgement
was taken away from us; but then to tell us, 'If you want the documents we
made our decision on, you'll have to take us to court' is ridiculous. They
make it impossible for us to work through the system and then they wonder
why we have to find an investor to see us through the process," Velky said.

BIA spokesman Nedra Darling said she could not comment because the agency
has not yet received the brief. The documents requested are part of the
FAIR database, which was established to provide parties to the petition
with all the documents submitted during the process in a timely manner.

The brief also asks Dorsey to issue an immediate order "preventing the BIA
from modifying, amending or deleting any part of the FAIR database as it
currently exists without prior permission from the court."

"Such an order is necessary in order to avoid prejudice to STN. Indeed, if
STN cannot review the updated FAIR database before it files its petition
for review, it will be unable to raise all of the potential issues for
[Administrative Procedures Appeal] review raised by the final
determination. The BIA should not be permitted to negatively impact STN's
right to [an] APA review by limited its access to the administrative
record," the brief stated.

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The tribe further asked the court to extend a Jan. 12 deadline for filing
its APA of the BIA's reversal to 90 days after the tribe receives the
requested documents.

The Schaghticoke achieved federal acknowledgement in January 2004. The BIA
released the database to the tribe and all intervening parties within the
30-day requirement, Velky said.

The tribe's positive acknowledgement sparked a frenzied effort by
Connecticut's elected officials, a wealthy anti-casino group of Kent
residents and its powerful White House-connected Washington, D.C. lobbyists
to overturn the decision.

After an appeal by the state's attorney general and a campaign by the
tribe's opponents, the BIA overturned its earlier positive decision and
removed the tribe's federal status.

Velky declined to speculate on what might be found in the documents, but
said that recent disclosures of kickbacks, campaign donations and influence
peddling in the scandal surrounding indicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff
have raised questions about the decision-making process in the federal
agency.

"I think we found evidence of that just in the depositions we were allowed
to do in our discovery this past spring and summer," Velky said. The tribe
deposed local and state officials in an effort to discover if they violated
a provision of the scheduling order that prohibits parties from contacting
federal decision-makers by using the citizens' group and its lobbyists as
surrogates.

Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon, are accused of bilking Indian
tribes of more than $80 million.

"The Abramoff investigation certainly uncovered the fact that he was able
to get to the decision-makers in the BIA. We would hope it would not affect
the researchers in the Office of Federal Acknowledgement, but questions
have to be asked," Velky said.

The tribe is also preparing to submit a formal request to the Senate Indian
Affairs Committee to investigate the events and process involved in the
BIA's reversed decision.