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Schaghticoke to rally against state neglect

SCHAGHTICOKE RESERVATION, Conn. – The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation will march on the state capitol on the fifth anniversary of its reversed federal acknowledgement to protest the refusal to protect the tribe’s reservation land.

The tribe has put out a call to its 300-plus members, to the communities of northeastern tribes and any non-tribal supporters to gather on the south side of the state capitol building and the legislative office building Jan. 29 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to protest the state’s refusal to stop Michael Rost, a non-Schaghticoke trespasser, from cutting down trees, bulldozing roads and desecrating sacred burial sites on the tribe’s 400-acre reservation on Schaghticoke Mountain in Kent, Conn., said tribal member Katherine Saunders. The state claims its hands are tied because of a “leadership conflict.”

“Jan. 29 is a very significant date for the Schaghticoke. That’s the day we were federally recognized in 2004 before the Connecticut politicians got to work and influenced the BIA to reverse it,” Saunders said. She is the chair of the tribe’s Preservation Committee and an organizer of the rally.

In a notorious decision that rocked Indian country, the BIA reversed the tribe’s federal acknowledgment in 2005 after an intensely organized campaign of political opposition by state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and other elected officials.

For more than a year now, tribal members’ requests for help have been rebuffed.

“Rost was arrested in 2004 for the very same thing he’s doing now, however, now the state will not intervene in assisting Schaghticoke with a cease and desist order. We’ve asked through e-mail, snail mails, phone calls and they basically say they won’t help,” Saunders said.

Why is the state refusing to help?

“Part of me believes that through the attorney general the state doesn’t want to recognize the Schaghticoke as a state tribe any longer and I think they’re trying to basically take away any rights we have by committing cultural genocide to our tribe.”

Tribal members have turned to each other, and technology for support. They wrote and posted a petition at www.petition which they intend to present to Gov. Jodi Rell at the rally.

The petition calls on the governor “to investigate and order an immediate halt to the hate crimes, destruction, desecration of sacred lands and encroachment” that continues despite the tribe’s requests for help.

“We are deeply concerned about the overwhelming, negative environmental impact affecting our ancestral lands,” the petition states. “Much of this devastation includes: severing, ripping and cutting down trees which cause the unnecessary fragmentation of forest blocks, selling timber off an Indian reservation, quarrying large boulders, destroying endangered species and their habitats, and purposely inflicting irreparable harm to sacred land.”

Blumenthal said the situation on the reservation is being monitored. “My understanding is that DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] has investigated potential violations of environmental law and will continue to review evidence. We are prepared to take any enforcement action that the DEP considers appropriate in light of the facts that it finds. If members of the tribal groups claim there have been potential criminal law violations, they should contact the state police.”

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But Saunders and other tribal members said the state police have refused to take their complaints.

“We’re asking everyone everywhere to go online and sign our petition,” Saunders said.

Saunders, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1984 to 1989, is the daughter of the late Pauline Crone Morange, an almost legendary figure among the Schaghticoke and other Native communities in the state for her tenacity and advocacy for American Indians. She was lead chairman of the Connecticut Indian Affairs Council and led the Schaghticoke to federal acknowledgment.

Crone Morange died in March 2004, just two months after the tribe received federal acknowledgment.

“Our family took her ashes to rest as she had requested on Schaghticoke Mountain. I buried her in three places in addition to the rattlesnake den, because with my disability I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it up to the top of the mountain on a regular basis,” Saunders, who suffers from back problems, said.

The endangered timber rattlesnake is the tribe’s emblematic protector.

“When I visited recently I found the sites desecrated and disturbed in two areas. The objects that we buried with her have disappeared.”

Rost could not be reached for comment. In a recent issue of the local Lakeville Journal, Rost said he is the “executive coordinator of the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe,” and that he is building “The Great American Freedom Pyramid” on Schaghticoke land, a $30 million project. The article did not report the source of the funding.

“STN stands for ‘socially transmitted neurosis’ while SIT stands for ‘strength, integrity and truth,’” Rost said. “We have not recognized STN, ever, and we don’t plan on recognizing them now. The STN is a country within a country. We are sovereign to the United States and sovereign as far as federal law. We do not fall under any DEP rules.”

But the unresolved conflict has resulted in a positive unintended consequence. It has started to heal a rift between STN Chief Richard Velky and his cousin Alan Russell who heads the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe faction, a position Russell’s sister also claims.

“Yes, we’ve talked and I just told Rich, do you think we can get along and share the land and share the pavilion and I guess we are so far. It’s about time that we’re at least on a talking basis. We need unity,” Russell said.

Russell, who lives on the reservation, expressed his love for the beautiful tract of undeveloped northeastern woodlands on Schaghticoke Mountain, a place that is home to herds of deer, vernal pools, mountain streams and a stopover for migrating birds in the spring.

“This place really is my life. I’ve been her all my life and my father before me, nine generations. I love the place. I love being here and I’m going to defend it to my last breath,” Russell said. He plans to attend the rally.