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Federal Recognition Denied to Two Indian Groups in Connecticut on October 12, 2005 -- Implications for the Akaka Bill

** Note: This webpage is based on an article by Kenneth Conklin published in Hawaii Reporter on October 14, 2005 entitled: "Federal Recognition Denied to Two Indian 'Tribes' in Connecticut -- Implications for the Akaka Bill" at:

On Oct. 12, 2005 the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) gave final notification to two Indian "tribes" in Connecticut that their applications for federal recognition have been denied. See two articles from the Hartford Courant for Oct. 12 and 13 reporting the details, at,0,3954241.story
and also a "Timeline of Eastern Pequots and Schaghticoke petitions" at,0,483875.story

These two Connecticut "tribes" have been seeking federal recognition for about 25 years. The BIA had previously notified one of them, in June 2002, that a "final determination" had been made granting it recognition. But the governor of Connecticut, and many other local officials, fought very hard to reverse that decision. Now, in October 2005, the people of Connecticut have successfully fought the federal bureaucracy and two well-financed "tribes."

There are three reasons why this news is important for Hawaii as we struggle to defeat the Akaka bill.

* (1) We must understand that many communities and states which already were severely impacted by Indian tribes are strongly opposed to creating (phony) additional tribes in their area. "Fight like hell" is their rallying cry -- a good slogan for the people of Hawaii. For discussion of the impact of tribal recognition on local communities and businesses; and numerous examples of community opposition; see:

The history of tribal recognition struggles in Connecticut is of special interest to Hawaii.

The Mashantucket Pequot "tribe" of Connecticut, a phony new tribe unable to qualify for federal recognition according to the usual requirements, successfully lobbied Congress to get a special bill passed (similar to the Akaka bill). Sen. Dan Inouye, then chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, was primarily responsible for getting that tribe recognized. Inouye accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the tribe and its affiliated contractors (tribes are sovereign and therefore exempt from campaign spending laws). Once recognized, that tribe built the world's largest gambling casino (Foxwoods) in a residential suburban area, causing tremendous hardship to the community. A book written by Jeff Benedict describes the corrupt process leading to the Congressional recognition: "Without Reservation: The Making of America's Most Powerful Indian Tribe and the World's Largest Casino."

The huge profits generated by the phony new tribe encouraged other alleged tribes in Connecticut to redouble their efforts to get recognized, including the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of Kent and the Eastern Pequots of North Stonington. The Eastern Pequots were in fact granted recognition by the BIA. But there was such an outcry of opposition from the Connecticut attorney general, governor, and both U.S. Senators, that the BIA reconsidered its decision and ultimately reversed it this past Wednesday. For some background information about Connecticut's opposition to Indian tribes, and Jeff Benedict's book, see:

* (2) Our federal Congressional delegation, plus OHA and other supporters of the Akaka bill, constantly say that Native Hawaiians are the only indigenous group in the United States who lack federal recognition. They make it sound as though Native Hawaiians are somehow singled out to be discriminated against; and that they deserve parity with other "indigenous" groups.

Most recently, on Oct. 8, 2005, OHA Administrator Clyde Namuo repeated that lie in an article in the Maui News: "It is only right that a policy extended to American Indians and Alaska Natives be extended to Native Hawaiians as well. We are the only indigenous group within the 50 states of the U.S. who has not been given the protections that federal recognition will provide."

That's nonsense.

Is Namuo saying that "American Indians" and "Alaska Natives" are two groups that have been federally recognized? If so, he's wrong. Over 560 tribes, bands, rancherias, or native groups have been recognized. It is not the racial group of "American Indians" as a whole which gets recognized. Each tribe is a political entity whose tribal government has exercised substantial authority over the daily lives of its members from before European contact continuously through the present time, living separate and apart from surrounding non-native communities.

Federal law contains seven "mandatory criteria," which the Bureau of Indian Affairs must use in deciding whether any particular group is eligible for federal recognition. The criteria are spelled out at great length. Voluminous research and documentation must be submitted by any group applying for recognition, to prove that every requirement is met.

Many "indigenous groups" have been denied recognition because they failed just one (or more) of the requirements. The seven criteria, and some examples of groups which were denied recognition a few years ago, can be seen at:

The great majority of American Indians do not belong to any tribe, and would not be eligible to join one. There are hundreds of Indian groups now seeking federal recognition, some for decades; and most fail to get it. For example, on March 29, 2004, the New York Times published an article saying, "There are now 291 groups seeking federal recognition as tribes, and many have already signed with investors ... Among the dozen or so groups awaiting final determinations from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, two-thirds have casino investors bankrolling them ... If their risk is huge - most would-be tribes have been turned down for recognition - so is their potential payoff."

* (3) It's important to understand that the Akaka bill proposes an entirely new theory of the Constitution that is dangerous to the entire United States. "Native Hawaiians" have never tried to get federal recognition through the long-established procedures of the Bureau of Indian Affaits. That's because everyone knows "Native Hawaiians" could never meet the seven mandatory criteria.

The Indian Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution is Article 1, Section 8, paragraph 3: "The Congress shall have power ... To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes." That clause is clearly discussing the power of Congress to regulate commerce with political entities, which existed before the United States came into being, and which continue to exercise authority over their members.

But the theory of the Akaka bill is that the Indian Commerce Clause gives Congress the power to single out any group of "indigenous people" (only one drop of native blood required) and artificially create a brand new political entity by creating a government exclusively for them. That's not what the Indian Commerce Clause says.

If Congress can do that, then it can grant recognition to all those Indian groups who already applied for recognition and were denied, plus thousands more groups who may apply in the future, plus groups which Congress might arbitrarily assemble even though they have not applied for recognition and do not even consider themselves to be a coherent group.

Imagine America with many thousands of Indian tribes negotiating directly with the federal government for housing, healthcare, education, and other welfare benefits. Each tribe gets goodies in proportion to its political influence (and campaign contributions) -- sort of like individual public schools in Hawaii today lobby the Legislature directly for capital improvement funds. Imagine Mexican-Americans (including "illegal" aliens) having their own "nation within a nation" on the grounds that they are an "indigenous" people (most Mexicans have at least one drop of Aztec or Mayan blood). How about African-Americans as a tribe?

Instead of one nation, America might become merely a shell or holding-company for many thousands of subsidiary nations. Instead of one nation indivisible, with unity; we might become many identity groups thoroughly balkanized and each exercising governmental powers in multifaceted jurisdictional disputes.

Instead of 50 stars on a field of blue, our flag might have thousands of stars whose pointilist montage of tiny white dots would totally hide any hint of blue.


*** Update December 3, 2005 ***
Indian Country Today, December 02, 2005

Schaghticoke seek investigation of reversal

by: Gale Courey Toensing

KENT, Conn. - The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation will file a formal request with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to investigate the people and process involved in the BIA's recent reversal of the tribe's federal acknowledgment.

The Schaghticoke received federal acknowledgement in January 2004, when the BIA was headed by former Acting Assistant Secretary Aurene Martin.

After more than a year and a half of ferocious opposition by Connecticut officials, an appeal by state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a high-powered lobbying firm's campaign with the White House and congressional representatives, BIA Acting Deputy Secretary James Cason issued a reconsidered final determination rescinding both the Schaghticoke and the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation's federal status on Columbus Day.

It was the first time the BIA has repealed a federal acknowledgement.

The Schaghticokes will ask the Senate committee, among other things, to scrutinize the role played by U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., and her connections to indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and indicted former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff through a $10,000 campaign donation she received from Americans for a Republican Majority, DeLay's political action committee.

''We can only ask that turnabout be fair play here with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and that they would hold an investigation to try to find out why a tribe would be recognized and then have its recognition taken away,'' Schaghticoke Chief Richard Velky said.

The committee will also be asked to probe Johnson's relationship with the powerful Washington, D.C. firm Barbour, Griffith &Rogers, which Fortune magazine ranked as the nation's top lobbying firm.

According to depositions taken by Schaghticoke lawyers, Johnson recommended the lobbying firm to TASK (Town Action to Save Kent), a citizens group of wealthy Kent property owners, which hired the firm to help overturn the tribe's federal status.

The depositions explore whether Connecticut officials violated a federal court order that prohibits contact with Interior Department decision-makers by using TASK's lobbyists as proxies or surrogates.

Both Abramoff and Haley Barbour, the founder of Barbour, Griffith &Rogers and current governor of Mississippi, contributed to Americans for a Republican Majority. Barbour is a longtime GOP insider with direct connections to the White House: he served as White House political director to President Reagan, senior adviser to the George Bush for President campaign in 1988 and as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

The Justice Department and the Indian Affairs committee are conducting ongoing investigations of Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon, concerning allegations that the two defrauded Indian tribes of more than $80 million in a scandal involving kickbacks, dubious campaign contributions and influence peddling.

Documents released during the probe have uncovered an ever-widening and tangled web of public officials who were drawn into the scandal, which was centered on decision-making at Interior regarding Indian tribes.

On Nov. 21, Scanlon pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to violate federal bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud laws. He is cooperating with the ongoing investigation.

Abramoff was a major GOP fund-raiser who DeLay described as his ''dearest friend.'' Johnson too is connected to Delay through friendship. Additionally, e-mails released by the Indian Affairs committee link Abramoff to Barbour, who allegedly lobbied members of Congress in support of a Louisiana tribe that was a rival of one of Abramoff's clients.

Both anti-sovereignty and anti-casino, Johnson was one the tribe's most vocal opponents. Like other state officials, her opposition was based largely on an objection to more gaming facilities in the state that is home to two of the world's biggest casinos - Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.

Johnson accused the BIA of being corrupt and politically influenced by tribal lobbyists. She claimed the tribe did not meet the criteria for recognition and said the BIA had ''manipulated regulations'' in order to grant the Schaghticokes' federal acknowledgment.

She demanded that Interior launch an investigation of the BIA and Schaghticokes; and when the inspector general exonerated the Indian agency and the tribe of any wrongdoing, corruption or influence-peddling, Johnson accused him of whitewashing the investigation.

In early 2005, Johnson entered a bill into Congress to terminate the Schaghticokes' recognition.

Johnson's district includes Kent, where the tribe has a 400-acre reservation on Schaghticoke Mountain - all that remains of 2,500 acres that were first set aside for the tribe in 1736. On Nov. 4, she sent a letter to her 5th District constituents boasting of her role in overturning the Schaghticoke decision.

''I have participated in congressional hearings on the tribal recognition process, and on this case in particular. I have pressed our case in meetings with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, who oversees the BIA ... I have fought so hard to make sure the people of Western Connecticut were not forced to accept a Las Vegas-style casino against their will,'' Johnson wrote.

''It comes as no surprise that she probably had something to do with the reversal. We always felt and still feel that we should have kept the recognition that we earned based on the merits of our petition. We know the reversal was somehow politically infected, in Blumenthal's words. Nancy Johnson's letter is just more proof of the involvement and the influence the politicians had on this process,'' Velky said.

Johnson did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

The Schaghticokes' process was and continues to be regulated under a federal court order that allows a 90-day period for an appeal of the BIA's reconsidered final determination. The tribe is preparing to file the appeal within that timeframe, Velky said.


** Update December 12, 2005 **
Connecticut Post, 12/12/05

Tribes' cash linked to lawmakers


WASHINGTON -- The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, flush with casino cash, contributed tens of thousands of dollars over the years to key out-of-state lawmakers serving on committees that oversee the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. That is the agency with the power to determine whether a tribe is eligible for federal recognition, which brings federal benefits to tribal members and, in some cases, allows a tribe to open a casino. The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee received at least $110,700 since 1990 from members, investors and people who work for the Mohegans and the Mashantuckets Pequots, according to a Connecticut Post review of data compiled by two non-partisan groups ??? the Center for Responsive Politics and PoliticalMoneyLine.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the committee chairman, received $57,700 and Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who chaired the committee when Democrats were in the majority, received $53,000.

On the House side, the tribes contributed at least $96,650 to three high-ranking members of the House Resources Committee. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., collected at least $51,500; Rep. Dale Kildee, R-Mich., $30,150; and Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., $15,000.

Topping the tribal contribution list is Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., who has collected at least $78,000. Kennedy was co-founder of the Native American Caucus in Congress.

Among Connecticut lawmakers, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., collected $55,350, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., $43,550; Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-5, $24,950; Rep. John Larson, D-1, $20,850; Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, $20,000, and Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2, $14,850. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4, received no contributions from the tribes. Added wealth

The two tribes expect to get richer without any additional in-state competitors ??? to the tune of about $6 billion.

Those extra profits come at the expense of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation and the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, which saw their dreams of casino riches dashed after the Interior Department, which oversees the BIA, denied their bids for federal recognition last month.

The Golden Hill Paugussetts experienced a similar fate in March.

The Schaghticoke and Paugussetts had plans for casinos in Bridgeport, while the Eastern Pequots would have opened a casino close to Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun in eastern Connecticut.

Leaders of the Schaghticoke and Golden Hill Paugussett tribes complain that the Mashantuckets and Mohegans ??? Connecticut's two federally recognized tribes ??? did not use their clout to help them win sovereign rights. "They could have come out and been a lot more vocal with the Connecticut politicians to urge them to stand down," said Richard Velky, chief of the Schaghticoke tribe.

Velky pointed to the increase in projected earnings as a reason for the two recognized tribes to stay silent.

Aurelius Piper, the Paugussett tribal chief known as Quiet Hawk, said neither tribe offered to help with their petition.

Velky said he would hope the Mohegan and Mashantucket tribe did not work behind the scenes to squelch their recognition. "I never said that and wouldn't suspect it," Velky said. "I just wish the two tribes would have come out and been more vocal supporters."

Chuck Bunnell, chief of staff to the Mohegan Tribal Nation, said the tribe did not lobby against any of the Connecticut groups seeking recognition.

A spokesman for the Mashantucket Pequots declined to comment on Velky's claims, but offered a prepared statement on the recognition denial: "The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation has consistently and historically advocated for the federal recognition of a united Eastern Pequot Nation and of a united Schaghticoke Nation. The Mashantucket Pequots are deeply disappointed that the United States has failed to recognize the long, governmental rights of our sister nations and that it has denied the existence of the Eastern Pequots' and the Schaghticokes' rights and abilities of self-governance, self-determination and tribal sovereignty."

Nevertheless, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority recently revised its long-term earnings estimate to reflect the fact that none of the rival casinos will open. They expect the Mohegan Sun to earn an extra $3.2 billion through 2014 without the competition. The resort earned $1.2 billion in 2005, a 6.8 percent increase over the previous year.

Foxwoods Resort Casino, operated by the Mashantuckets, does not publish long-term revenue projections but likely earns as much, if not more, than Mohegan Sun. Influence peddling

Velky and Piper, however, are concerned that casino money played a role in BIA's decision. Both pointed to an ongoing Indian lobbying scandal as a sign that officials at the Bureau of Indian Affairs potentially could be bought off.

"The stuff that has been coming out suggests many people have many interests in stopping tribes from further recognition or expansion of gaming interests," Piper said.

McCain and the Department of Justice are investigating whether Jack Abramoff and his associates bilked tribes out of $82 million by praying on genuine and imagined regulatory threats to their casino interests.

At the time, Abramoff was one of the highest-flying lobbyists in Washington, trading on his contacts with then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and his status as a top fund-raiser for President Bush.

Abramoff has also been indicted on fraud charges in connection with a casino deal that ended in a gangland-style slaying. "He was able to influence the BIA," Velky said. Fund-raisers

Missing from the figures cited by the Post are contributions from individuals not directly related to the tribes, who attended fund-raising events sponsored by the tribes.

For example, a series of fund-raisers held at the Mohegan Sun casino between May 2001 and February 2002 raised thousands of dollars from Connecticut contractors that worked on a $1 billion casino expansion project.

Inouye and Kennedy each collected $10,000.

McCain, meanwhile, raised more than $25,000 for his presidential campaign at a fundraiser in 1999 at the Mashantucket reservation.

Dodd, Lieberman, Johnson, DeLauro and Simmons have actively sought to limit the number of new tribes receiving federal recognition. However, most other lawmakers supported by the Mohegan and Mashantucket tribes have gone the other direction.

Dodd and Lieberman sponsored legislation in 2002 to impose a moratorium on BIA federal recognitions, saying the approval process was broken.

The moratorium would have blocked recognition of new Connecticut tribes -- presumably leaving the Mashantucket and Mohegan casinos to reap $6 billion more over the next decade.

The Senate soundly rejected the idea, voting 85-15 to table the amendment on Sept. 23, 2002. Since the vote, the Mashantucket and Mohegan tribes have contributed a total of $44,000 to Dodd and Lieberman.

At a Senate hearing this May, Inouye chastised members of the Connecticut delegation who opposed the use of state recognition as a consideration in federal recognition. The issue is at the heart of the disputes over recognition of the Paugussett, Eastern Pequot and Schaghticoke tribes.

''How could it be otherwise? Don't most, if not all, states want the federal government to defer to the sovereign decisions and actions of those states over the course of their history?'' Inouye said. On the House side, Kennedy has been a staunch advocate for the Narragansett tribe, which is seeking to open a casino in neighboring Rhode Island. Meanwhile, Pombo introduced legislation this year to speed up the federal recognition process, noting that the Shinnecock Nation of New York has been number 12 on BIA's "ready for active consideration" list for two years but there has been no movement. BIA opposed the bill saying it would lower the recognition standards. A federal judge recently recognized the Shinnecock tribe as a sovereign nation, but it is unknown whether that ruling will affect a BIA decision.

April 11, 2006

Anthropologist Questions Schaghticoke Tribe's Loss Of Federal Recognition

By Karen Florin

New London -- Anthropologist Lucianne Lavin told an audience on Monday night that she was dumbfounded when the Bureau of Indian Affairs rescinded the Schaghticoke tribe's federal recognition last year. "The tribe thinks it was a political decision, and that might be right," Lavin said. The Schaghticokes were recognized in 2004 but lost their federal acknowledgment last year based on an appeal by the state and several communities.

Having worked with the tribe for the past quarter-century, Lavin knows their history well. She regaled a small audience at Connecticut College Monday with accounts of rattlesnake hunts on the tribe's rocky reservation in Kent, in northwestern Connecticut, and she showed slides of tribal members through the decades.

Her lecture was entitled "Schaghticoke Struggles: Discrimination, Detribalization and Tribal Identify -- Will Justice Prevail?"

Her stories of rattlesnakes pointed to the resourcefulness of tribal members who would "salt" a particular area with snakes when white men came to hunt them once a year, because happy snake hunters were more likely to be generous with their food or their cash. Lavin said that Earl Kilson, a tribal sagamore (second-in-command) in the mid-1900s, milked rattlesnakes for their venom and sold snakes to the Beardsley and Bronx zoos.

Most of Lavin's slides and stories illustrated the losses the tribe suffered over the years, culminating in the reversal of their federal recognition.

"Federal recognition does not create a tribe," she said. "It merely acknowledges who they are. Tribal people know who they are."

She showed maps of the reservation in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and told how the boundaries shrank as the white man sold 1,600 acres away from the tribe. The tribe was left with 400 acres of land unfit for farming and most other activities, she said. She showed pictures of tribal chiefs, elders and children, of powwows and handmade wood-splint baskets.

She said that when the white men started mass-producing baskets, tribal women could no longer make a living with their craft. When the electric company put a dam on the Housatonic River, she said, fish no longer could come upriver to spawn and the tribe lost an important source of food. Although most tribal members eventually moved away from the reservation, they remained active in the tribe, she said.

The state has always had overseers on the reservations, and the Department of Environmental Protection is considered the tribe's contemporary overseer.

"How can you not have a tribe when you still have a state department overseeing the tribe?" Lavin said. "Difficult." Conn college anthropology professor Harold D. Juli invited Lavin to speak as part of a series on the practice of anthropology outside of academia.

The town of Kent acknowledged the Schaghticoke during its bicentennial celebration in 1939, but town leaders turned against the tribe at the end of the century, when it appeared they might be recognized by the federal government and attempt to reclaim hundreds of acres of land.

The tribe was looking at Bridgeport as a place to build a casino.

Gov. John G. Rowland proclaimed the Schaghticokes and four other state tribes as bona fide in 1996 when he declared October as Native American month.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell, however, testified at a congressional hearing last year that "Connecticut has no historic reservations." "I don't know what parallel universe she's living in," Lavin said of the governor.

Tribal Chief Richard Velky, who attended Lavin's lecture, said the Schaghticokes hope that an appeal of their recognition case in federal court will get a fair hearing. He said the tribe expects to hear something by the end of the month.


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