Schaghticokes launch Internet petition calling for investigation

KENT, Conn. -- The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation has launched an Internet
petition drive calling for an investigation of the BIA's reversal of the
tribe's federal acknowledgement.

The petition asks the Senate Committee of Indian Affairs "to hold a hearing
immediately to investigate the chain of events that led to the BIA's
unprecedented action on October 12, 2005, to reverse the Schaghticoke
Tribal Nation's Federal Acknowledgement."

Posted on two Web sites, the petition was collecting around 10 signatures
an hour from people in Connecticut, California, Florida, Maine,
Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio and elsewhere on Oct. 31, the first full
day of its posting.

The petition is the first step in a planned battle against what
Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Chief Richard Velky called an "unjust, unfair,
and politically unsavory" decision to strip the tribal nation of its
federal status.

"We know the decision rendered on Oct. 12 was wrong. We know it was
politically influenced and coordinated. We know there were too many
'coincidences' after we were given our positive federal acknowledgement for
the reversal to be justifiable," Velky told Indian Country Today Oct. 31.

The Schaghticoke received federal recognition in January 2004 after the BIA
reviewed and analyzed more than 30,000 documents, illustrating the tribe's
existence dating back to the late 1700s.

The decision was appealed by state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, and
relentlessly opposed by him and the state's congressional representatives
and local officials. Additionally, a private group of wealthy property
owners formed TASK -- Town Action to Save Kent -- and raised $1.5 million
to hire lobbyists to pressure federal officials to overturn the
Schaghticoke's federal status, including the White House-connected firm of
Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, LLC.

The Interior Board of Indian Appeals vacated the BIA's positive final
determination last May and sent the decision back to BIA Associate Deputy
Secretary James Cason for reconsideration.

Cason notified the tribe by fax on Oct. 12 that he had rescinded its
federal status.

Velky said the final decision "lacks all cohesion and internal logic"
regarding the seven criteria that a tribe must meet.

"They moved the finish line, without a doubt. Something's been adjusted,
and it certainly wasn't to the benefit of the tribe: it was to the benefit
of the politicians in the state of Connecticut," Velky said.

The tribe has e-mailed the petition's Internet links directly to hundreds
of individuals and more than 500 federally acknowledged and
state-acknowledged tribes.

"This isn't just an Indian issue. Now it's become a civil rights issue,
too. Our rights have been denied to us and justice has been denied to us
for so long," Velky said.

Despite the devastating reversal, tribal members still hope that justice
will prevail, Velky said.

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," Velky
said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.

In a series of "whereas" clauses, the petition outlines the sequence of
events leading to the decision to take away the tribe's acknowledgement.

The events include accusations by elected officials that the inspector
general of the Interior Department issued a "tainted" report when he
exonerated the BIA of wrongdoing following an investigation they had
requested; further accusations that the BIA is "corrupt, lawless and out of
control"; racist remarks by Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., who called the
tribe a "ragtag group," filed a bill in Congress to terminate the tribe and
recommended Barbour, Griffith & Rogers; and depositions and e-mails
indicating that TASK and its lobbyists coordinated activities with the
elected officials and may have violated a court order prohibiting contact
with federal decision-makers by using the lobbyists as surrogates.

"We have reason to believe they wrongly influenced a federal agency to
overturn a rightful decision given to the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation in
2004 and they did it because of gaming, not because of a people's heritage,
culture, traditions. And until the difference between a tribe's heritage
and casino gaming is separated, there won't be a single tribe able to
achieve recognition if the Schaghticoke weren't able to achieve it," Velky

The next step in the battle will be a federal court appeal of the BIA
decision. The tribe has only 90 days to file an appeal under a federal
court scheduling order that continues to govern the tribe's recognition

Meanwhile, tribal members decided to launch the petition drive to tell
their story and solicit as much support as they can, Velky said.

"We certainly can use it," Velky said.

The petitions are at http://new.PetitionOnline.com/STN06418/petition.html
and www.thiscause.org/p/menu.php?p=Nation63700DB.