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The Eastern Pequots, then and now

The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation is outraged over the Interior Board of
Indian Appeals' opinion remanding our positive recognition back to the BIA
for reconsideration. A little history explains why.

THE FACTS

After the Pequot War of 1637, our people were separated into two distinct
groups: the Eastern Pequot and the Western Pequot (Mashantucket). The
colony and state of Connecticut defined a distinct status for the Eastern
Pequot as a tribe of Indians when the colony established a land base for
our people in 1683, and that status has existed to the present without
interruption. There has been implicit in this status the recognition of a
distinct political body.

Historical records and narratives prove that our predecessors were required
by law to live under the supervision of non-Indian and colony-appointed
Indian governors from 1655 - 1695 and under state-appointed overseers from
the 18th through the 20th century. This approximately 350-year history of
supervision is documented in Connecticut's state statutes from the Code of
Laws of 1650 to the Public Acts of 1989. These laws, codes, ordinances and
statutes were the means by which our people were forced onto land so meager
and unsuitable it was almost impossible to raise either food or game. They
forbade us from handling guns and required us to accept the colonists'
religious beliefs.

The state of Connecticut mandated that we apply to overseers to be
recognized as tribal members in 1936 and ask permission to live on our land
(1929, 1954); they also imposed a one-eighth blood quantum for membership
(1961). We were even required to ask permission for relatives to stay
overnight in our homes to care for sick members. This is shown by this
quote in a letter from the Indian Affairs Council to one of our tribal
members on July 20, 1977: "I have consulted with [the] Eastern Pequot
representatives to the Indian Affairs Council. [Obviously these were formal
leaders.] I have determined that it would be permissible for you to take in
a houseguest in order to share your housekeeping and expenses." All of
these rules and - restrictions are well-documented in court records and
state statutes; many of them still exist today.

When we applied for federal recognition, they told us to follow the
regulations and we did. We achieved a proposed positive decision to
recognize our tribe on March 24, 2000. We are the only Connecticut tribe
ever to receive a proposed positive finding. The final determination to
grant us recognition was announced June 24, 2002.

THE ERRORS

In 2005 two IBIA judges adopted the state of Connecticut's argument that
state recognition was "unreliable and of little probative value," those
requiring a history of community and political processes. The IBIA's
opinion is fatally flawed, and not just because it barely mentioned the
extensive evidence we submitted.

Here are some of its biggest errors:

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The June 24, 2002 final determination of the BIA decision did not even use
state recognition to determine whether we met criteria for community. Our
overwhelming proof of a geographically close community included the highest
degree of Indian-to-Indian marriages of any tribe in Connecticut, based on
marriages within our tribe and with neighboring tribes continually to the
present day. Our kinship ties are unassailable evidence for community and,
according to the regulations, also for political process.

We also proved our continued participation in an Indian church established
in 1874. This Indian church was the sister church to the Narragansett
Indian Church in Rhode Island. Our tribal members worshipped there
together, served as church leaders and have been married and buried there
since it began. Similar evidence was used by other recognized tribes.

The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation never detribalized, unlike other tribes
who are now federally recognized. Even when the official policy in this
country was mass termination - even though the state tried to detribalize
us as recently as 1953, as noted in the "Journal of the Senate, 1953,"
Senate Bill 502, 'An Act Concerning Indians" - we resisted. How can the
state of Connecticut claim a tribe isn't a tribe when they were attempting
to detribalize it?

Some of the strongest evidence of political authority was the continuous
petitions and complaints of our people to fight to keep the right to govern
ourselves and protect our reservation. We proved (as did others before us)
that we had formal and informal, spiritual and social-cultural leadership,
including a state-recognized chief who represented our tribe with the state
overseers and, later, Indian agents from 1929 until his death in 1955. This
evidence is well-documented in the "Summary Under the Criteria" of our
final determination and cites the Connecticut Superior Court's recognition
of him representing us as our leader in 1933 and 1955.

This 20th-century chief also was referenced as the Eastern Pequot leader in
Jan. 4, 1934 in a report filed by the Department of the Interior,
Department of the Office of Indian Affairs. He was continuously recognized
by the state because he filed complaints to prevent Indian agents from
selling pieces of our land, demand better treatment of our people, or
define member eligibility in the tribe. All of the tribal membership lists
filed in the Connecticut Superior Court during his time as our chief were
with his agreement with the overseer that all names submitted as tribal
members were acceptable to him and were so published in the local
newspapers.

We, like other Indian tribes within Connecticut, have suffered documented
political conflicts and had divisions among our membership over the course
of our history. In the 1970s we experienced our most significant conflict,
disagreeing among ourselves which family lines should represent us at state
hearings. The IBIA seized upon those arguments, which arose from power
struggles among rival leaders, to claim we were not a tribe. Such conflicts
must be recognized for what they are: evidence of the strong kinship ties
among our people and the value they place on leadership and the land.

Coincidentally, this and other claims that are now given so much attention
surfaced only after Indian casinos became the most popular form of
entertainment and revenue in the state. The state of Connecticut and other
anti-Indian activists rip apart every positive BIA decision, accusing the
professionals of incompetence and worse, but they praise the BIA for doing
its job each time it issues a negative decision. Their goal is obvious:
they mean to hijack our recognition and that of any other tribe within
Connecticut. But don't think they'll stop there - the anti-Indian activists
have taken their show on the road. They'll spout their rhetoric in any town
in America where an Indian tribe may be on the verge of economic
independence. Your town may be next.

The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation is proud of all it has accomplished in
reuniting its families and healing its internal conflicts, marshaling an
incredible amount of evidence spanning over 350 years, and earning an
unprecedented proposed positive and final positive determination from the
BIA. We hope to celebrate together in September, when our recognition is
reaffirmed.

Marcia Jones Flowers is chairwoman of the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation.