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Old 02-02-2004, 01:53 PM   #1
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Long awaited recognition for Schaghticoke

Long awaited recognition for Schaghticoke
Roils state, presidential and tribal politics

Posted: January 30, 2004 - 3:52pm EST
by: Jim Adams / Associate Editor / Indian Country Today

DERBY, Conn. -- "After years and years and years and years," as Chief Richard Velky put it, the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation received federal recognition at 3 p.m. Jan. 29, right on the dot of a court-ordered deadline.

The decision, signed by acting BIA head Aurene Martin, immediately caused turmoil in tense state politics and even impacted the Democratic presidential campaign. It also raised questions about internal dynamics in the bitterly divided tribe.

But for the day it brought an outburst of celebration at tribal headquarters in this small mill city in the heart of the state's once thriving manufacturing region. About 100 tribal members cheered and a drum group beat a victory song as the news emerged from a tribal council conference call with the BIA.

A statement from the office of Assistant Interior Secretary Indian Affairs said the Schaghticoke "as defined in the Assistant Secretary's final determination, meets the regulatory requirements for a government-to-government relationship with the United States." The 13-page summary of the 200-page final report will be published in the Federal Register in the first days of February, making it official.

It was immediately unclear how the BIA, or the nine member Schaghticoke Tribal Nation council, would handle a rival petition for recognition from the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe, a group centered on the inhabitants of the 480-acre reservation in Kent. The rocky hillside along the Housatonic River was set aside for the Schaghticokes by the Colony of Connecticut in 1737. About 11 Indians now live there. Together with another 50 or so in the nearby area, they have bitterly rejected the leadership of Chief for Life Velky, who has a more urban base of about 310 supporters.

The BIA has treated both groups as part of the same tribal unit and earlier declined to approve the Tribal Nation petition on the grounds that it represented only a part of the Schaghticoke political system. In submitting a revised petition, Velky managed to produce an at least temporary showing of allegiance from many of his former critics.

These divisions, and talk of future economic plans, were lost in the euphoria of the announcement. "Let us relish in this moment of federal recognition," said Velky, "before taking any step forward."

But if Velky declined to talk about economic development, which with almost complete certainty would be based on a casino, state politicians could talk about little else. State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the archenemy of federal recognition for state-recognized tribes, instantly vowed to appeal the decision, which without any apparent evidence he called the product of "friends in position of power."

Sounding like Howard Dean in Iowa, he said to television cameras, "This precedent is so astonishing and appalling in its reach and effect that it should awaken Congress to the BIA's arbitrary and lawless approach."

U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-First District, issued a statement saying: "This recognition may enable the Schaghticokes to build a casino, which I believe will be very detrimental to the state. We have to respect the process, but I hope the state uses all the resources necessary to seek to overturn the decision." Just the day before, Shays and U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., introduced a bill requiring state legislatures to approve new gaming facilities. The measure would also direct the President to set up an "Advisory Committee on Minimum Regulatory Requirements and Licensing Standards for Indian Gaming" and revive Wolf's call for a federal commission on living standards in Indian country and the local impact of Indian gaming.

The one federal voice conspicuously quiet was that of U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who is now campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president. He is appealing for Indian votes in Feb. 3 primaries and caucuses in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona even though he has opposed federal recognition for his home-state tribes.

Local reaction was sharply divided in the southwestern Connecticut localities in which the Schaghticokes have explored sites for a possible casino. The mayor of Bridgeport, one of the state's largest and most decayed industrial cities, expressed support and was one of the first people Velky called with the news of recognition. But the mayor of Danbury on the New York State border vowed "I will lay in front of the bulldozer that comes in to clear the site before I let a casino come to Danbury."

Even the state's Republican Governor John Rowland expressed "complete opposition to the further expansion of casino gambling in Connecticut."

He said, "I will not agree to the annexation of non-Indian land for the purpose of expanded gambling."

Rowland has previously been considered one of the state politicians best disposed to the gaming tribes, having on occasion admitted that they saved the state's economy in the 1990s. But he is now facing a serious impeachment inquiry for lying about favors received from targets of corruption probes, and his approval rating is at a phenomenally low point.

The Schaghticokes will in effect be obligated to seek a casino to pay back the cost of their 25-year quest for recognition, which Velky has said is in the range of $10 million. The money came from a shifting and still undisclosed group of investors, although Velky has acknowledged the primary role of Michael D. "Mickey" Brown, who launched the fabulously successful Foxwoods Casino Resort for the Mashantucket Pequots and is now presiding over the Seneca Niagara Casino in western New York.

A Schaghticoke casino would be the first in the western part of the state away from the historic Pequot territory of southeastern Connecticut. Two Pequot-related tribes, the Mashantuckets and the Mohegans, now operate casinos considered the most profitable in the world. A third tribe, the Eastern Pequots, received federal recognition in June 2002, but economic plans are in limbo during an appeal lodged by Attorney General Blumenthal with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals.

The Schaghticokes are an amalgamated tribe descended from the Weantinock and Potatuck tribes who first made contact with European settlers in northwest Connecticut. For much of the 18th century, their community in Kent was tended to by the Moravian Brothers, whose records were crucial to the successful drive for recognition.
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This article can be found at http://IndianCountry.com/?1075496100
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Old 02-02-2004, 04:35 PM   #2
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