On this webpage are excerpts from a remarkable letter from the Attorney General of the State of Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, to Senator Dan Inouye, dated March 10, 2003. The letter strongly opposes proposed legislation that would make it easier for Indian groups to get federal recognition. The letter demands instead that legislation be passed to make the recognition process more stringent, more open to public participation and oversight, and less vulnerable to political corruption. Local and state officials struggling with tremendous jurisdictional and financial problems caused by Indian tribes, and responding to strong demands from their constituents, do not want to see more (phony) tribes popping up in their areas. Both of Connecticut's Senators, Dodd and Lieberman, are in agreement with Mr. Blumenthal, as can be seen from a newspaper article provided after the letter. Connecticut has suffered for many years from a previous corrupt Congressional recognition of a phony Indian tribe (see book review below), and wants to avoid repeating the process.
HOW IS ALL THIS RELATED TO THE NATIVE HAWAIIAN RECOGNITION BILL? (1) First, the cities and states who want to avoid making it easier to recognize new tribes should strongly oppose the Native Hawaiian Recognition bill. That's because every time Congress passes a bill to recognize tribes, it is an end-run around the customary standards for recognition and it sets a pattern of giving recognition to phony tribes who have political clout and financial muscle. (2) The people of Hawai'i, and their elected Legislators, should carefully read what the Attorney General of Connecticut says about the serious consequences for local communities when a tribe gets recognized. Hawai'i's politicians need to "get real" about Hawaiian sovereignty and stop living in a romanticized fantasy land.
Sovereign Indian tribes and non-Indian communities do not mix well when living in close proximity in densely populated areas. In parts of Connecticut, New York, Washington State, California, and elsewhere the conflicts have reached crisis proportions. The problems seem to arise when politically sovereign tribal lands operate under very different taxation, environmental, zoning, and labor laws from heavily populated non-Indian communities immediately next door to them. New "tribes" of doubtful legitimacy keep springing up and demanding federal recognition so they too can get financial windfalls from gambling casinos and untaxed businesses, leaving non-Indian communities to pay for roads, sewers, schools, etc.
Communities already in conflict with Indian tribes don't want any more new ones being recognized, and are pressuring their state governments and Congressional representatives to oppose additional recognitions. Meanwhile, would-be new tribes want changes in the rules for federal recognition to make it easier to be recognized, so they too can become wealthy and powerful at the expense of their non-Indian neighbors. And some self-proclaimed Indian tribes, knowing they cannot meet the usual criteria for recognition, get enormous financial resources for political lobbying and campaign contributions by making agreements with existing tribes or large corporations for future profits from casinos and other tax-exempt businesses to be operated on the reservation lands of the phony tribes when they finally get recognized.
Thus, there's a struggle in Congress over proposed legislation that would change the rules for recognizing tribes. The Republican and Democrat leadership of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Dan Inouye, receive enormous campaign contributions from the tribes and from wannabe tribes, and are supporting legislation to make it easier for tribes to be recognized. But some local and state politicians are fighting back.
The following items are offered below: (1) Excerpts from the letter from the Attorney General of the State of Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, to Senator Dan Inouye, dated March 10, 2003. (2) A book review of Jeff Benedict's "Without Reservation," documenting the corrupt Congressional recognition of a phony Indian tribe in Connecticut (a process that threatens to be repeated with the Native Hawaiian Recognition Bill). (3) A newspaper article describing continuing corruption, in the case of the Congressional recognition of another phony Indian tribe in Connecticut several years after the tribal recognition process documented in item (2). (4) A year after Attorney General Blumenthal's letter to Senator Inouye, Mr. Blumenthal met with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton, on behalf of Connecticut's entire Congressional delegation, to protest against Bureau of Indian Affairs procedures for recognizing new Indian tribes. The State of Connecticut is demanding a Congressional investigation of improprieties in at least one such recognition. The people of Connecticut are disgusted conflicts caused by phony Indian tribes getting sovereignty in the midst of non-Indian communities.
(1) March 10, 2003 on official stationery of the State of Connecticut, Office of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, signed by him, and bearing the state seal. Excerpts from Mr. Blumenthal's 3-page single-spaced letter to Senator Daniel Inouye, Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
"I write to the Committee to express my serious concerns about S.297 ... Instead, I ask the Committee to support S.463, recently introduced by Senator Joseph I. Lieberman and Senator Christopher Dodd, which more carefully balances the legitimate interests of tribes, states, local communities and the public. In addition, I continue to advocate that the tribal recognition decisions be made by an independent commission ... insulated from improper influences of money and politics, which so pervasively now drive these decisions.
"I fear that S.297 would weaken the current standards for determining tribal recognition -- standards adopted to ensure that only groups that have continuously existed as tribes are accorded federal recognition. Under current acknowledgment regulations, a petitioning group must demonstrate that it has existed as a distinct social community and has exercised political authority and influence on a continuous basis from historical times to the present. ... 'Historic' is defined under current regulations as from the time of first sustained contact with non-Indians ...
"...Given the immense, far-reaching significance of recognition decisions for affected states, municipalities and the public, the potential denial of the right to judicial review is fundamentally unfair. It deprives those affected parties -- particularly sovereign states -- of their rights to due process and other constitutional guarantees. ...
"A decision by the federal government to recognize an Indian tribe has profound and irreversible effects on tribes, states, local communities, and the public. Tribes that receive federal recognition may be permitted to operate commercial casino gaming. They are exempt from most state and local laws and land use and environmental regulations. They enjoy immunity from suit. They may seek to expand their land base by pursuing land claims, or seeking to place land into trust under the Indian Reorganization Act. They may be insulated from many worker protection statutes relating, for example, to the minimum wage or collective bargaining as well as health and safety codes.
"For these reasons, I urge you to reject S.297 and support reform measures, such as S.463, that will restore public confidence, integrity, and fairness to the recognition process."
(2) A major investigative report was published in the form of a book showing that "Congress was essentially tricked into granting tribal status to the [Mashantucket Pequot tribe of Connecticut] -- a political process that allowed it to skirt the much more stringent recognition standards maintained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs." As a result of all the publicity this book got, it can be hoped that Congress will not be so easily fooled in the case of the Native Hawaiians.
The book, by Jeff Benedict, is entitled: "Without Reservation: The Making of America's Most Powerful Indian Tribe and the World's Largest Casino." Here is a book review by Amazon.com editor John J. Miller.
"The Mashantucket Pequot tribe of Connecticut were nearly penniless just a couple of decades ago. Today, they are the richest tribe in America and owners of the world's largest gambling casino. And, writes Jeff Benedict, their wealth is based on a fraud. Without Reservation will remind some readers of A Civil Action, by Jonathan Harr, for its novelistic approach to nonfiction as well as its earnestness. Benedict says that Congress was essentially tricked into granting tribal status to the group -- a political process that allowed it to skirt the much more stringent recognition standards maintained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Benedict's reporting is provocative, showing, for instance, that Skip Hayward, the man who headed the tribe for many years, listed his race as "white" on the application for his first marriage license. And Benedict's narrative is character driven almost to a fault, though it makes reading about congressional hearings and backdoor politics enjoyable. There is convincing evidence on these pages that pols were duped by Hayward, first in Connecticut and then in Washington. The evidence is strong enough, in fact, to warrant formal congressional hearings on the decisions made in the 1980s to confer official status on the tribe, and perhaps even revoke that status or redirect some casino profits to poor Indians. In short, Without Reservation is the kind of book that can kick-start a controversy -- or at least amplify an existing one to the point where the need for reform becomes urgent. If the book has a weakness, it's that Benedict didn't get to interview many tribal officials. But then it's easy to see why they might avoid a man with so many hard questions. This book needed to be written, even without their cooperation." -- John J. Miller
(3) The following newspaper article was published in the Hartford Courant [Connecticut] of September 27, 2002, written by staff writer Rick Green. This newspaper often appears to take sides in opposition to further tribal recognitions in Connecticut. That in itself is interesting, because it shows that the newspaper's readership probably shares in the opposition. But despite the newspaper's editorial bias, this article describes some startling facts which can be independently verified. This article describes close personal relationships between members of the Eastern Pequot (alleged) tribe, seeking federal recognition, and the chief aide to the then-Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Dan Inouye, whose committee was conducting hearings on a bill to give recognition to the (alleged) tribe. This article describes a closed, rigged process where committee hearings seem to be showpieces leading to pre-scripted conclusions. The process is similar to the one when the Mashantucket Pequots received recognition, and also similar to the closed, incestuous insider process now underway to give recognition to "Native Hawaiians." The intensely political and possibly corrupt process described in this article is the sort of thing referred to in Attorney General Blumenthal's letter of March 10, 2003 (item #1 above), and that is why this article is copied here.
Tribe's Foes Fault Role Of Senate Aide
Conflict Of Interest Seen In Link, Through Husband, To Eastern Pequots
As Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, delivered a masterful grilling of North Stonington's first selectman during a congressional hearing last week on the federal recognition of the Eastern Pequots, his chief counsel, Patricia Zell, sat close by, handing him incisive, knowledgeable questions. In the week that followed, she would be behind Inouye as he rallied colleagues and overwhelmingly defeated a proposed moratorium on tribal recognition - a ban proposed by Connecticut's two senators in response to the decision on the historical Eastern Pequots. This ban would have frozen, at least temporarily, all recognition decisions, including the Eastern Pequots'.
Zell's husband was also in the audience in the packed Senate committee hearing room that day, sitting beside the leaders of the Eastern Pequots. He is Michael D. Cox, chief counsel for the tribe and architect of the tribe's successful petition for federal recognition.
Now, those opposing recognition of the Eastern Pequots are crying foul, saying Zell and Cox's relationship is another example of a corrupt process rife with impropriety and questionable ethics, one where purchasing influence is the first order of business. "I think it's certainly a conflict of interest," said Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon, who was in the audience at the Sept. 17 hearing. "Who knows how much influence she had on the [Eastern Pequot recognition] decision?"
Zell, a longtime Indian issues adviser to Inouye, who is the influential chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, denied any impropriety. "I don't see how there is any issue," Zell said Thursday. "There is no conflict. The committee ... has no direct involvement in the acknowledgement process." "There is no relationship between the acknowledgement process and how it operates and the Congress or this committee," said Zell, who is the committee's staff director and lawyer.
For the last week, however, Congress was very deeply involved. This culminated on Monday when Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., forced a Senate vote on the proposed moratorium on tribal recognition, which could have dramatically impacted the Eastern Pequots. Inouye - and his staff in closed-door meetings - took the lead in opposing the moratorium, which was trounced in a 80-15 vote. Dodd did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. Inouye's office also did not return calls.
U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, a longtime advocate of reforming tribal recognition, said Inouye is "known for impeccable integrity." However, he said, Zell and Cox's relationship "creates the appearance of a conflict. ... For a staff director to be orchestrating a hearing where her spouse is in the front row of the room, does create some appearance of a conflict of interest." Cox called the allegations "an insult to Sen. Inouye." "We are well-known in this town," Cox said, referring to his marriage to Zell. "We operate in an ethical way. Our issues don't cross," said Cox, who has worked for the Eastern Pequots for the last two years, but has long worked on Indian issues in Washington.
But North Stonington First Selectman Nicholas Mullane disagreed and called Zell's involvement in Eastern Pequot matters "absolutely unethical." "No doubt about it," said Mullane. "It's a closed process and it's predetermined. It's all insiders. This is going to cast more doubt on an already flawed and injured process. People are going to say, `What more is there to this that we haven't heard?'"
Critics have cited the Eastern Pequots' hiring of Republican insider Ron Kaufman to lobby on their behalf. Kaufman, a GOP fund-raiser with close ties to the White House, Republican Party and Gov. John G. Rowland, was paid $500,000 for his work. He has denied contacting the White House on behalf of the tribe.
Dodd and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., have bills pending in Congress that would seek to reform the recognition process. And in comments this week, Inouye called the process as "a scandal."
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the recognition proces should be taken away from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and given to an outside commission or agency. In the last year, the BIA has been the subject of two inquiries - one by Congress and the other by the Department of Interior's inspector general - over allegations of political meddling and improper recognition decisions during the Clinton administration. "The history of improprieties and irregularities demonstrates the profound need for an independent agency that is insulated from influences of money, politics and personal relationships which may compromise the credibility and integrity of decisions," Blumenthal said.
(4) A year after Attorney General Blumenthal's letter to Senator Inouye, Mr. Blumenthal met with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton, on behalf of Connecticut's entire Congressional delegation, to protest against Bureau of Indian Affairs procedures for recognizing new Indian tribes. The State of Connecticut is demanding a Congressional investigation of improprieties in at least one such recognition.
The Hartford Courant, March 18, 2004
Blumenthal Asks For BIA Decision Probe
In a "spirited and frank" meeting Wednesday, state Attorney General Richard
Blumenthal asked U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton to impose a moratorium on
all new Indian tribal recognition decisions.
Blumenthal's face-to-face meeting with Norton in Washington came as the entire
Connecticut congressional delegation released a letter saying the Bureau of
Indian Affairs, an agency of the Interior Department, had followed a flawed
process in recognizing the Kent-based Schaghticoke Tribal Nation.
Federal officials granted recognition to the Schaghticokes in January even
though they knew the decision did not meet existing Bureau of Indian Affairs
rules, The Courant reported last week. The report was based on an internal
briefing paper supplied to the newspaper.
The decision is critically important because federally recognized tribes are
eligible to operate casino-style gambling in the state. Another tribe, the
Golden Hill Paugussetts, also is seeking federal recognition.
Blumenthal, who represented the congressional delegation at the meeting, said he
expressed dismay over the memo to Norton and asked her to launch an
investigation into the recognition decision.
"The discussion with Secretary Norton was spirited and frank," Blumenthal said
afterward. "There was no specific result or decision, but Secretary Norton
indicated clear interest, and her comments were thoughtful and informed."
He said he did not expect Norton to make an overnight conversion, adding,
"Today's meeting is simply another step in a hard-fought battle we will pursue
as long as necessary."
Dan DuBray, an Interior spokesman, confirmed Blumenthal's characterization of
the meeting and said Norton will respond later to the issues he raised. DuBray
said the department does not make a habit of responding publicly to letters from
members of Congress. Last week he said the department is confident the decision
"will be upheld in all legal forums."
In their letter to Norton, Connecticut's five U.S. representatives and two U.S.
senators wrote that they are "are deeply troubled by the possibility that the
[bureau] would make a decision with regard to the recognition of the
Schaghticokes that either ignored, overrode or waived existing criteria."
The delegation asked Norton "to take personal action" to investigate the
recognition decision. Separately, Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, R-5th District, has
asked the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to
review the Schaghticoke recognition. A spokesman said Wednesday that Johnson has
not received a definitive answer from the accounting office.
Blumenthal predicted the accounting office will conduct an inquiry and that
Congress will hold hearings on the Schaghticoke decision. But, he also said, "we
will have to continue to fight."
The attorney general said he was shocked by the internal memo because it showed
the Bureau of Indian Affairs' "lack of concern for the rights of the state of
Connecticut, its citizens and the interested parties who participated in these
[recognition] proceedings under the apparently mistaken view that their input
would be heard and considered fairly."
Members of the congressional delegation said they are not seeking to prevent the
lawful recognition of tribes. "Instead, we want to ensure that the process works
fairly for all parties, and that the confidence of the public is not
undermined," the delegation members wrote.
Richard L. Velky, chief of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, said Wednesday he was
not aware of the congressional delegation's call for an investigation. He said
he had sought help from members of the delegation in 2000 when he complained
about the slow pace of the recognition process.
"They told me it was the only process that existed and [that] it was a fair
process," Velky said.
Efforts to hinder additional Indian casinos also continued in the state
legislature Wednesday. The judiciary committee heard testimony on a proposal
that would bar a tribe from building a casino anywhere except on reservation
Several tribes have expressed interest in developing casinos in urban areas,
where some local leaders see them as a remedy to the economic troubles of their
Kent First Selectwoman Dolores R. Schiesel told legislators she opposed the bill
because it could leave the Schaghticokes with no choice but to open a casino on
their reservation in her rural town, which does not want it.
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