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Seeking justice

KENT, Conn. – The wife of Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Chief Richard Velky said she is more convinced than ever that the tribe’s federal acknowledgment was the victim of powerful lobbying interests after reading a news report about Sen. John McCain and his ties to Indian gaming and lobbyists.

Kathy Velky said she will ask the Justice Department and the inspector general of the Interior Department to launch an investigation of the BIA’s Oct. 12, 2005, reversal of the tribe’s federal recognition, which had been granted in January 2004. The reversal came after a coordinated campaign of opposition by elected officials, an anti-Indian group and its powerful Washington lobbyist, according to court documents. The tribe’s appeal of the reversal was denied in September by a federal district court judge in New Haven.

A week after decision makers at the BIA overturned the tribe’s acknowledgment and that of the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, Kathy Velky wrote to McCain, asking him to investigate the reversal.

“My letters to John McCain requesting an investigation into the reversal of my family’s tribe have gone unanswered. Could this be why?” Velky said, referring to the report published by The New York Times Sept. 28.

The report describes McCain’s gambling ties, including his relationship with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, whose Foxwoods Resort Casino (along with the Mohegan Tribe’s Mohegan Sun) would have faced competition from an STN casino if the tribe’s federal acknowledgment had not been withdrawn. The MPTN has donated almost $56,500 to McCain’s 2008 election campaign, making the tribe the second-highest donor after MGM Mirage, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The report also details McCain’s willingness to do favors for lobbyists, including Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, the powerful White House-connected firm hired to overturn STN’s federal acknowledgment by a group of wealthy landowners near the tribe’s 400-acre reservation in Kent.

She sent McCain the letter two more times; and on Sept. 11 of this year, she wrote again urging him to launch an investigation, and again he did not respond.

On Sept. 21, Velky sent Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin an e-mail asking her to intervene: “If you are truly committed to change, cleaning up special interests and lobbyists in Washington, please contact me. I have to advocate for justice and truth. My Down syndrome daughter, Michelle, taught me this 23 years ago.”

Palin had not responded as of press time.

McCain was chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee when Velky first wrote to him.

“He had the power within that committee to give the tribe a fair shake, and an honest shake, and he didn’t. I didn’t know at the time that he was part of the problem,” she told Indian Country Today.

In her letter to McCain, she recounted how immediately after the tribe received federal status the state and congressional delegation called on the Interior Department’s inspector general, Earl Devaney, to investigate what they called the “corrupt, lawless and out of control” BIA and the tribe.

Four months later, Devaney exonerated the BIA, the tribe and its attorneys of all wrong doing. The tribe’s recognition was “controversial,” Devaney said, but the process was clean.

Velky went on to describe a hearing on federal recognition that the Senate Indian Affairs Committee held in May 2005 at which Connecticut’s elected officials testified.

“Their testimony was so untruthful, distorted, misinformed and skewed that in one instance you heard Congressman [Chris] Shays claiming that the state only recognized reservations, but not people, and in the next instance you heard Gov. [M. Jodi] Rell claiming that Connecticut has no reservations.”

Velky said that the Times report touched briefly on what she and Karen Pane, the wife of STN Vice Chairman Michael Pane, discovered during months of researching e-mails and other documents received from Freedom of Information Act requests in preparation for the tribe’s appeal: that McCain had scheduled the hearing at BGR’s request and that its outcome-based agenda was structured to show that the BIA was “broken” so it would “revisit” STN’s acknowledgment.

The Times also noted another of Velky and Pane’s discoveries: that McCain’s staff told BGR that the Senate Indian Affairs Committee “would love to receive a letter” from Rell.

“We reviewed e-mails between McCain staff, BGR and the governor’s office that showed BGR actually wrote the letter that Gov. Rell sent to Sen. McCain,” Velky told ICT.

She added that even federal District Court Judge Peter Dorsey came under scrutiny by the tribe’s attorneys for a letter he wrote to Rell in 2005, suggesting that he already may have prejudged the tribe’s case. Dorsey told the governor he had allowed the tribe a filing extension as a precautionary measure against a possible reversal by an appeals court that might “buy” into the tribe’s claim of due process violations.

“I think the tribe’s federal recognition reversal is as big a scandal as Jack Abramoff’s. Abramoff took money from the tribes, but BGR and the other opponents stole the tribe’s federal acknowledgment,” Velky told ICT.

Federal recognition would have provided funds for education, health, housing, cultural preservation, and economic development, she said.

“That’s what they stole from Schaghticoke and the Eastern Pequots. When you add up economic self-sufficiency of all the members, restoring language and culture and traditions, what dollar value do you place on that? That’s the heritage of my children and all other tribal members’ children. How far did the opponents go? We know so much, but what don’t we know?

“People’s memories fade; they get to say, ‘I can’t recall,’ and that’s where the injustice lies. There has to be a full investigation.”

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