KENT, Conn. — In an unprecedented move, the BIA has reversed a pair of
positive final determinations, rescinding the federal acknowledgement of
two of the oldest Northeastern woodlands American Indian tribes in the
On Oct. 12, members of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation in Kent and those of
the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation in North Stonington received faxes from
the agency, announcing its reconsidered final determinations to rescind its
decisions to grant either tribe federal acknowledgement.
The Eastern Pequots and the Schaghticokes received federal recognition in
final decisions in June 2002 and January 2004, respectively. On an appeal
from the state and towns surrounding the tribes, the positive decisions
were vacated in May by the Interior Board of Indian Appeals and remanded to
the BIA “for further work and reconsideration.”
Connecticut elected officials, and a well-heeled private citizens group
called TASK (Town Action to Save Kent) and its Washington lobbyists,
relentlessly opposed the acknowledgements based on a conflation of
anti-sovereignty and anti-casino arguments.
Federal status would give the tribes the right to open more casinos in the
state. Although state officials fought the Schaghticokes’ and Eastern
Pequots’ efforts, Connecticut takes more than $450 million in slot machine
revenues from the Mashuntucket Pequots’ Foxwoods Casino and the Mohegan
Indian Tribe’s Mohegan Sun.
“We are the people of this land,” Schaghticoke Chief Richard Velky said in
a thick voice to dozens of weeping tribal members huddled in a pavilion
next to the tribe’s office on the reservation.
“If they think for one second that this is going to deter this tribe,
they’re wrong. Look at our history. Look how many times they kicked us off
the land, burned our homes, stopped us from assembling. We’re here today,
but we’re not stopping today. Maybe, finally, I can agree with [Attorney
General Richard Blumenthal] … there is an aroma of high-powered political
influence, and we are going to get to the bottom of it.”
The BIA’s actions mark the first time that the Indian agency has reversed
its previous positive final determinations on appeal.
The tribe will appeal the rejection in federal court, Velky said.
“We know our evidence is there because the bureau told us back in January
2004: ‘You are a tribe. We recognize you.’ How can you take that back on
the fact that the state of Connecticut doesn’t want another gambling casino
here? Because that’s what it’s based on.
“We’re not a casino people. We’re an Indian people. We are the Schaghticoke
Indian people,” Velky said.
Schaghticoke Vice Chairman Michael Pane said the BIA decision has
significance beyond the tribe.
“This is a historic moment for the recognition process. This decision
affects not only the Schaghticoke but all the tribes fighting for
recognition in the country. The bar was raised so high for Schaghticoke. We
are the best-documented tribe in the country. People all over Indian
country will be disappointed because they know who we are and what our
struggle has been; and if we can’t make it, it’s going to be so hard for
all the others,” Pane said.
Schaghticoke history is documented back to the 1600s. The colonial
government first set aside 2,500 acres of reservation land for the tribe in
Eastern Pequot Chairman Marcia Flowers echoed the theme that political
influence-peddling has impacted the BIA decision.
“It’s clear to us that a process created to be above politics has been
completely derailed by politicians and our people will pay the price for
that corruption,” Flowers said.
The Eastern Pequots are ready to face the continuing challenge, Flowers
said: “Today’s decision is a disappointment, but it is far form the end of
the long struggle to confirm the heritage we know is ours.”
Flowers reviewed the Eastern Pequots’ long history back through the 1600s,
when “our ancestors welcomed Europeans to a new land, then lost their own
lands and lives to the colonists’ aggression in the Pequot War.” The
colonial government set aside the tribe’s reservation lands in 1683.
The tribe will review the decision with its advisers before determining the
Testimony and e-mails from recent depositions conducted by Schaghticoke
attorneys indicate efforts to overturn the BIA decision may have been
coordinated among Connecticut elected officials, TASK and TASK’s lobbyists
at the White House, Interior, the BIA and at Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s and
Blumenthal’s offices. The contacts may have violated a federal court order
prohibiting parties to the Schaghticoke petition from contacting federal
decision-makers without prior notice to all the parties.
Attorneys for the tribe said the evidence will be part of the appeal.
Rell and Blumenthal applauded the BIA decisions.
“This is great news for Connecticut. Common sense and the rule of law
prevailed today. The BIA made the only decisions it could have — and
should have — based on its own criteria,” Rell said.
“The right decision came only because our relentless fight forced federal
officials into it. Our appeal produced a clear rebuke and rejection from
the Interior Board of Indian Appeals that the BIA illegally used state
recognition to compensate for vast gaps in evidence for both the Eastern
Pequot and Schaghticoke,” Blumenthal said.
“This decision is a historic win for our state, but also for Native
American groups, whose sovereign status deserves respect and whose own
recognition would have been demeaned by granting it to these groups,”
“Now we need to rid the system of improper influences that have tainted
tribal recognition decisions for too long. We need comprehensive, complete
reform of the tribal recognition process. The right decision came only
because our relentless fight forced federal officials into it,” Blumenthal
“The attorney general always praises the BIA when it denies a tribe
recognition and says the BIA is corrupt when grants a tribe federal
recognition,” Guy Michael, a Schaghticoke attorney, remarked.
Summaries of the reconsidered final determinations were released by James
Cason, Interior’s associate deputy secretary.
Cason agreed in some, but not all, instances with the IBIA judges’ ruling
that state recognition was given too much weight in supplementing evidence
for continuous community and political authority during some historical
As an additional reason for denying federal status, the reconsidered final
determinations cited factional disputes in both tribes.
The decision acknowledged that the Eastern Pequots broke into two factions
— the Eastern Pequots and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots — in the early
1980s and that the two groups were one tribe before the split. In granting
the tribe federal recognition in 2002, the BIA recognized the two groups as
one tribe and the groups in fact have reconciled and operate as one united
tribe. But the reconsidered final determination rejected the
“Because of the recentness of the split, EP and PEP neither separately or
together demonstrate existence as a community, nor the exercise of
political authority or influence from historical times until the present,”
the ruling stated.
In the Schaghticoke’s case, the faction consists of around 42 former tribal
members who began to oppose Velky’s leadership in the late 1990s and early
2002 and chose not to re-enroll in the tribal nation. The final
determination had listed the unenrolled Schaghticoke Indians as the tribe’s
broad community base.
In a kind of Catch-22 argument, the reconsidered final determinations
rejected that definition: “The reconsidered final determination concluded
that the STN final determination should be reconsidered on the grounds that
at least 33 of the 42 individuals on the STN list of ‘unenrolled members’
were not members of STN because they had not consented to enroll. Under the
regulations, one must consent to being a member of a petitioning group,”
the ruling said.