Shocking news! Not all Connecticut politicians are against federal recognition of the state’s Indian tribes!
The mayor of Connecticut’s biggest city has written to the Bureau of Indian Affairs applauding the agency’s proposed new regulations for the federal acknowledgment process. The proposed regulations aim to reform a system that almost everyone has described as “broken” for the past two decades.
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch objected to one item in the BIA proposal, however — a provision that would prevent the federal government from reconsidering the petitions of three tribes the state has recognized since the 17th and early 18th centuries when it started expropriating their lands. The provision would give third parties the power to stop tribes that have been denied recognition to seek reconsideration under the new regulations.
“If, as you say in your announcement released on May 22nd, that ‘Reform of the process is long-overdue’ and that a number of tribes were denied recognition under the current regulations, those tribes should be afforded due process under the revised provisions,” Finch wrote in a short letter to Interior Department Assistant Secretary — Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn on September 30. That was the last day of the comment period, which Washburn had extended for 60 days from its original August 30 deadline.
“A third party should not receive veto powers concerning reconsideration. That is not a state’s rights issue or the province of an individual or corporation,” Finch continued. “Rather, the third party should be offered the opportunity to submit documentation in the acknowledgment process that documents why a petitioner has not fulfilled the criteria for acknowledgment. All parties should receive appropriate notice but the regulations must address the Federal relationship with the Native American tribe without the outright denial by a third party without necessarily evaluating the facts of the petitioner.”
Finch’s support for Indian nations is at odds with the state’s entire congressional delegation of two senators, five representatives, Gov. Dannel Malloy, State Attorney General George Jepson and a coalition of town mayors and selectmen – all led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who has been an Indian fighter for more than 20 years.
In addition, Finch supports the human rights framework of social justice with its aim of “promoting a just society by challenging injustice and valuing diversity.”
“Unlike many Connecticut Leaders, the City of Bridgeport and I are long-standing supporters of social justice and have wholeheartedly supported the recognition process of all our Connecticut tribes,” Finch wrote.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, owner of Foxwoods Resort Casino and the Mohegan Tribe, owner of the Mohegan Sun, were recognized in 1984 and 1994, respectively. The Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe was denied recognition in a final determination in 2004. The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation were federally recognized in final determinations that were overturned in 2005 after a relentless campaign of opposition by local, state and federal elected officials led by Blumenthal, who was then attorney general, an anti-Indian sovereignty group and its powerful White house-connected lobbyist, Barbour Griffith & Rogers. Interior's Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason, a non-Indian Bush appointee who was never confirmed by the Senate, issued the decisions by fax.
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In his comments to Washburn, Finch expresses appreciation for indigenous culture and acknowledges the long pre-contact histories of the peoples who lived in the area now called Connecticut (from Quinnitukqut, the Mohegan name for the Connecticut River. The name literally means "long river.") “We recognize the history, cultural and spiritual values Native Americans have contributed and of their presence that long predates European settlement. In fact, many areas and features of our state derive from Native American names including our Housatonic River as well as our State’s name – Connecticut,” Finch wrote.
Connecticut politicians who oppose the proposed federal recognition reforms, including a coalition of around 20 towns located near reservations or the existing casinos, have submitted numerous comments to the BIA. All comments on the proposed rule can be read here.
The opponents share the same objections often using the same language. They say the proposed rule will make it easier for the Connecticut tribes that were denied federal status to be acknowledged and object to giving tribes “a second bite of the apple.” They say more casinos in the state would be “disastrous,” despite the fact that the two existing casinos have created tens of thousands of jobs and poured more than $6 billion from their slot revenues alone into the state’s coffers. They say the crime rate around casinos will increase despite a new study that shows the violent crime rate has fallen by as much as 33 percent in the towns around Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in a seven year period since the casinos opened compared to the seven years before they opened. They say the tribes will make claims for lands that will “unfairly” remove those lands from the tax rolls and that as sovereign nations tribes will do whatever they want on their ancestral lands. They urge the BIA not to go forward with the proposed reforms.
But, recently, a five-town coalition came up with a fresh new reason to drop the proposed regulations. ICTMN has obtained a 10-page document prepared for the towns by attorney Don Baur of the firm Perkins Coie and sent September 4 to the federal Office of Management and Budget (OBM). The document claims the revised rule would violate the Paperwork Reductions Act by imposing a “paperwork burden” on federal employees, petitioners and interested third parties – and urges the OBM to stop the Interior Department from finalizing the proposed new regulations.