Three Connecticut state recognized tribes, all of whom were denied federal recognition more than 10 years ago, have another chance to apply due to newly proposed federal recognition regulations, issued recently by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
One of the changes in the proposed regulations is an expedited positive ruling for state tribes that have held land since 1934. If the changes are approved, the Eastern Pequot, the Schaghticoke, and the Golden Hill Paugussett could now qualify for federal recognition, which would allow them to pursue many avenues of economic development and cultural revitalization. All have held land for hundreds of years.
Nedra Darling, spokeswoman for the BIA, said, “The proposed ‘expedited positive’ process is primarily to be used for petitions in which there is no serious challenge among the local community and state.” Connecticut’s congressional delegation has announced they will dispute the new regulations.
“We will fight like hell,” announced U.S. Congressional Representative Rosa DeLauro to attendees at an April 16, Woodbury, Connecticut Town Hall Meeting.
DeLauro said she was concerned about the tribe’s land claims and that, “The Golden Hill Paugussett could potentially make another play for homeowners homes, and this is not a scare tactic, I want to be upfront.”
The Golden Hill Paugussett and Schaghticoke have said they would be willing to exchange land claims to build casinos in Danbury and Bridgeport, Connecticut. The City of Bridgeport passed a referendum in support of casinos that could bring thousands of jobs to that impoverished city.
The state, however, is just saying no. DeLauro told the town hall meeting that additional casinos would void the compacts with the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans. Together the two tribes have brought more than $5 billion to the state, according to Connecticut State Senator Kevin Witkos.
Not all of the Woodbury audience agreed with DeLauro. One woman suggested that new casinos might bring competition to the industry and make up funds lost from the Pequot and Mohegan compacts. “Homeowners rights would be protected, Native claims honored, and taxpayers income is protected,” the woman said. Another audience member said it is unlikely the homeowners would be faced with losing their homes, and that there would be a negotiated settlement.
Yet, DeLauro insists the state has no interest in negotiating. She said, “I think the changes we have suggested are what we need. We are looking at eliminating the expedited favorable ruling.”
Apparently, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy is of the same mind. In protest of the new regulations, he went to Washington and hand delivered a letter to President Barack Obama.
Malloy’s list of complaints states, “In Connecticut, reservations have been maintained simply because there are descendants of the groups for which the reservations were first established,” implying the tribal members are merely descendants.
Malloy complained that the new regulations favor the tribes rather than the state and that giving federal recognition to the tribes now would overturn previous court decisions.
Ruth Garby Torres, Schaghticoke, author of a chapter in the book, Recognition, Sovereignty Struggles, and Indigenous Rights in the United States: A Sourcebook, said that in her opinion, the state is afraid of gaming expansion based on outdated information. Torres said the Schaghticokes are well aware the Kent area is not appropriate for casinos and destructive planning. She said, “People are afraid of traffic, crime, disrupting the beauty of the area, the lack of control, building something without the town’s zoning influence. What is not being discussed is, that’s our land. We see the beauty, too! Why do you think we would do that?”
According to an Associated Press article, the state has not suffered from the casinos, which brought tremendous revenue into Connecticut, even during the worst of the recession, and in some areas crime declined. “I’d say those fears have not come to pass,” said Montville Mayor Ron McDaniel. However, the town of Ledyard, which hosts the Foxwood Casino, did see an increase in traffic and crime rates.
A letter of support from the National Congress of American Indians asked Connecticut “to recognize its legal, historical, and political relationship with those tribes within Connecticut” whose tribal structures predate the Constitution of the United States. It asked for Connecticut to “respect the inherent sovereignty of those tribes and to engage in good faith bargaining” and “to refrain from using the Bureau of Indian Affairs regulatory process and the courts to delay a legitimate federal tribal recognition decision.”
Both the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation received federal recognition and saw those decisions reversed through political pressure from the state.
Eastern Pequot Tribal Chairman Dennis Jenkins wants the state to know that the Eastern Pequots are interested in pursuing economic development projects other than casinos, especially since more casinos will be opening in nearby Massachusetts. “Other tribes have energy plants, and wind; we could bring manufacturing jobs into the state,” he said.
However, none of the tribes would give up the right to open a casino, and that is the position mainstream Connecticut cannot get beyond.
“It’s unfortunate we have to fight a state that has the duty to take care of us,” Jenkins said. “Instead, they are trying to destroy us.”
On the other side of the state, Chief Richard Velky, tribal chair of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, said, “The state has a fiduciary duty to the tribes, based on hundreds of years of relationship. The state has never kept books on lands taken, on their obligations to the tribes, and there is no accountability. The federal government has a job to either accept the tribes as federally recognized or not. We followed what they needed, the federal government should have no problem giving federal recognition.”
Regarding the alarmist position the state has taken, Torres said, “Rather than deploy a strategy that makes people upset, sit down and negotiate. The fear is being stirred up again. Before your hair catches on fire again, why don’t you get the facts straight and stop inciting communities near the reservations.”
Public comments on the revised proposed rules must be received by August 1, 2014, either by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and include the number 1076-AF18 in the subject line, or by mail to: Elizabeth Appel, Office of Regulatory Affairs & Collaborative Action, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, NW, MS 4141, Washington, DC 20240. Include the number 1076-AF18 on the envelope.