Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
From the Hartford Courant:
Rein in the Bureau of Indian Affairs
By JEFF BENEDICT
February 8 2004
Out of control! There's no better description for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and its decision last week to reverse itself and grant federal recognition to the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation.
"This decision is based on a determination that your tribe satisfies all seven criteria for acknowledgment," Lee Flemming, chief of the BIA's Office of Federal Acknowledgment, wrote to Schaghticoke leader Richard Velky. Uh-huh. A year ago, the BIA determined the opposite.
Besides mocking its own regulations, the BIA has gone out of its way -- and outside the law -- to create another sovereign nation inside our state. This decision has activated a 2,000-acre land claim in Kent and resurrected fears that a third casino will land in Danbury, Bridgeport or Waterbury. Regardless of its merits, the land claim is a threat and an expense to many innocent landowners. The tribe's lawyers hope to use this as leverage to force Connecticut to give the tribe and its financial backers the right to a casino. We must not give in to that tactic.
These casino tribes may be able to get the BIA to play fast and loose with its rules. But remember, the law in Connecticut is clear: Last year's repeal of Las Vegas Nights makes it illegal to build another casino in the state.
That repeal is emerging as one of the most critical pieces of legislation in a long time. All the bluster and money behind the drive to turn Connecticut into Las Vegas East faces a legal stop sign.
Yes, we can expect the tribes to challenge the law in court. But that fight occurs only if any of the BIA's artificially propagated tribes survives the legal appeals process. The more immediate threat is that while the BIA is at work ginning up new ways to break its own rules and precedents, it is treading on the will of our legislature and citizens by forcing upon us a public policy that we reject. It doesn't take a road map to figure out where the BIA is driving our state. If the Schaghticoke decision, coupled with the BIA's creation of the equally bogus "historic Eastern Pequot Tribe" in 2002, is allowed to stand, a clear precedent is set for other specious groups, like the Golden Hill Paugussetts and the Nipmuc, to receive federal recognition.
Connecticut would then have within its borders six sovereign nations, each outside the reach of the state's criminal laws, civil regulations and tax code. And yes, they'd be working to bring casinos to their lands.
The corrupt federal recognition process is eroding Connecticut's sovereignty. It will be a political crime if the Bush administration allows the Schaghticoke decision to stand, subjecting the public to an unaccountable federal agency that is doing more these days to enrich casino moguls than to help destitute Indian tribes. Connecticut is in a fight for control of its destiny, a fight that we did not pick, but that we must surely not shrink from finishing.
Ultimately, Connecticut will not be rid of this problem until the BIA is out of the recognition business and Congress authorizes a legitimate, transparent process recognizing tribes.
Jeff Benedict, author of "Without Reservation: How A Controversial Indian Tribe Rose To Power And Built The World's Largest Casino" (Harper Perennial, 2001), is president of the Connecticut Alliance Against Casino Expansion, a coalition of business, legislative, religious and citizen groups.
Copyright 2004, Hartford Courant
>> "This decision is based on a determination that your tribe satisfies all seven criteria for acknowledgment," Lee Flemming, chief of the BIA's Office of Federal Acknowledgment, wrote to Schaghticoke leader Richard Velky. Uh-huh. A year ago, the BIA determined the opposite. <<
So what? The Schaghticokes responded to criticism and improved their application. How is that a crime?
>> Besides mocking its own regulations, the BIA has gone out of its way -- and outside the law -- to create another sovereign nation inside our state. <<
Reversing itself is "mocking its own regulations"? Loaded language alert!
>> But remember, the law in Connecticut is clear: Last year's repeal of Las Vegas Nights makes it illegal to build another casino in the state. <<
Great. So why all the crying about another tribe in Connecticut? Sounds like Benedict doesn't want Indians whether they open a casino or not. Can you say "racism"?
>> But that fight occurs only if any of the BIA's artificially propagated tribes survives the legal appeals process. <<
"Artificially propagated" is a specious phrase considering one of the recognition criteria is establishing the tribe's existence since colonial times.
>> The more immediate threat is that while the BIA is at work ginning up new ways to break its own rules and precedents, it is treading on the will of our legislature and citizens by forcing upon us a public policy that we reject. <<
If you don't like public policies that stem from court rulings that stem from the Constitution, amend the Constitution.
>> It doesn't take a road map to figure out where the BIA is driving our state. <<
It doesn't? The question Benedict should ask is why the BIA's conservative leaders, who were appointed by a conservative president, would want to alienate conservative voters in conservative areas of Connecticut. Could it possibly be because recognizing the Schaghticokes is the right thing to do? It's hard to imagine what else could be motivating the Republican-controlled federal government.
>> If the Schaghticoke decision, coupled with the BIA's creation of the equally bogus "historic Eastern Pequot Tribe" in 2002, is allowed to stand, a clear precedent is set for other specious groups, like the Golden Hill Paugussetts and the Nipmuc, to receive federal recognition. <<
Is there any tribe in Connecticut that Benedict doesn't think is "bogus" or "specious"? I doubt it.
>> Connecticut would then have within its borders six sovereign nations, each outside the reach of the state's criminal laws, civil regulations and tax code. <<
How many tribes is too many? Many states have more than six, yet they've survived quite nicely. Again, it seems Benedict opposes the idea of sovereign Indian nations, even though they've been enshrined in federal law for almost 200 years. It seems he'd prefer it if Connecticut's Indians disappeared.
>> The corrupt federal recognition process is eroding Connecticut's sovereignty. <<
Note that Benedict provides no evidence that the process is corrupt. He merely asserts that it is, then uses his assertions to justify his claims.
>> Ultimately, Connecticut will not be rid of this problem until the BIA is out of the recognition business and Congress authorizes a legitimate, transparent process recognizing tribes. <<
What kind of process would Benedict recommend? How would it not involve a federal agency much like the BIA making decisions based on criteria much like the BIA's? Would he let Congress or the citizens of each state vote on a tribe's recognition? Or what, exactly?
Benedict has no answer, obviously. What he wants is a process that denies recognition to every tribe in his neighborhood. If the BIA instituted such a process, he'd be all for it. He'd suddenly think the BIA was the most impartial agency in the world.
Talk about transparent. The word describes Benedict's motives. In fact, he's making his fame and fortune on the backs of Indians. If he's so concerned about the suffering citizens of Connecticut, let's see him donate his anti-casino income to them.
The facts on the Schaghticokes' recognition
Some information for Benedict's benefit:
Reversal on Schaghticokes not so surprising, report shows
Posted: February 05, 2004 -- 11:55am EST
by: Jim Adams / Associate Editor / Indian Country Today
DERBY, Conn. -- Missing a deadline by one day might have cost the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation more than a year delay in its federal recognition, said Chief Richard Velky.
State officials expressed shock at the federal government's "inexplicable reversal" in granting Schaghticoke recognition on Jan. 29, after declining it in December 2002. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called the decision "outrageously wrong." In a snap reaction he said, "What changed their minds is unfathomable and unforgivable."
Yet a close read of the two reports and an interview with Chief Velky show that the final positive decision was not really a surprise.
The negative "Preliminary Finding" by what was then the Branch of Acknowledgement and Research (BAR) contained broad hints for filling the gaps in the Schaghticoke's petition, some of which were caused by the delay in delivering stacks of evidence. "The report gave us a road map," said Velky.
In the time of good feeling following recognition, Velky won't dwell on the reason the deadline for submissions was missed back in the spring of 2002. But, he told Indian Country Today, "We had a trunk full of documents that would have answered some of their questions."
Recognition for the tribe by that time was following a strict timetable negotiated under the aegis of U.S. District Court Judge Peter Dorsey, who is hearing three related Schaghticoke land claim suits. So the tribe waited to make its case in the comment period on the Preliminary Finding. Even though the BAR report found gaps in tribal continuity, it also made clear they might be bridged with more work.
Let the games begin: Victims of success?
Posted: February 09, 2004 -- 4:06pm EST
by: Tom Wanamaker / Correspondent / Indian Country Today
Tribes like the Paucatucks, Schaghticokes, Paugussetts and many others across Indian country sought their recognition well before the advent of high-stakes Indian gaming. Many of these, like the six Virginia tribes, may not even want to bother with gaming but are now, unwittingly and unfairly, becoming the victims of their gaming predecessors' success.
The Schaghticokes, 315 members strong, spent some $10 million over 25 years to attain federal acknowledgement of their sovereignty. Their small reservation in western Connecticut is not particularly well suited for a casino, but they are pursuing a claim for surrounding land. While they have not specifically committed to building a casino anywhere, speculation points toward possible Fairfield County sites in Danbury or Bridgeport, both within an easy drive of New York City and Westchester County and their millions of residents.
In closing, we offer the following for Attorney General Blumenthal's consideration. The Schaghticokes have had a reservation in Connecticut since colonial times and state recognition since statehood in the 1780s. If you didn't believe they were a legitimate tribe, why didn't you revoke their state recognition?
If the government of an Indian tribe has the recognition of a state amid which tribal lands lie, how can that state then about-face and claim that federal recognition of that same tribe is wrong? What does that say about state recognition?
February 15, 2004
A Split Tribe, Casino Plans and One Little Indian Boy in the Middle
By WILLIAM YARDLEY
Since gambling on Indian lands began to boom in the early 1990's, the tribal recognition process has become freighted with lobbyists, Congressional intervention, outside investors, court agreements and accusations of incompetence and inconsistency at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
But amid the politics and pressure, government researchers scrupulously study family links and community interaction to determine whether to confirm that a tribe, according to federal requirements, "has existed as a community from historical times until the present."
The stakes of recognition have risen exponentially, but the process remains tied to the most elemental human connections.
Since the controversy broke, Blumenthal, another anti-Indian critic, claims to have found a "smoking gun" that implicates the BIA's recognition process. It appeared in the Bethel Beacon (3/19/04), among other places:
AG notes 'smoking gun'
This development deserves a few comments:
1) If Blumenthal believes he has the proof of the BIA's corruption now, that means he didn't have the proof before. So all his scaremongering about the out-of-control recognition was so much guesswork, hot air, and political puffery.
2) The "smoking gun" memo says the Schaghticokes' bid for recognition had two shortcomings the BIA massaged. One is whether fighting between two factions of Schaghticokes constituted evidence of political activity from 1996 to the present. Saying it did was a judgment call, not a violation of the process.
The BIA's opinion was that the in-fighting did meet the criterion. Critics may disagree, but that doesn't make them right and the BIA wrong. There's no clearcut right or wrong on this matter, only opinions.
3) The more significant issue is the evidence of political activity from 1820 to 1840 (lacking) and from 1892 to 1936 (insufficient). Here the BIA substituted the state's recognition of the tribe for other evidence, saying this recognition is proof the tribe existed as a political entity.
One can question whether the BIA should have substituted the state's recognition for other evidence when the rules didn't permit it. But whether state recognition constitutes evidence of political activity is again a judgment call. It's defensible, as the following Congressional testimony shows:
[Deputy assistant secretary Aurene] Martin's use of the state's 300-plus year relationship with the tribe as part of her analysis draws significant criticism from Blumenthal. The state claims the relationship has no bearing on the tribe's case.
But Martin, in her decision, pointed out that the tribe, like others in the state, has its own state-recognized reservation. She also noted that, over the years, the state has legislated in the area of Indian affairs, including appointing overseers for the state's tribes, extending voting rights to tribal members and attempting to terminate the state-tribal relationship.
At an Indian law conference last month, Martin cited these factors in a public defense of her decision. While acknowledging that state recognition alone might not carry much weight, she said the "active" and "ongoing" relationship between the Schaghticokes and Connecticut deserved special attention.
Martin Attacked for Federal Recognition Decision, Indianz.com, 5/4/04
[Former assistant secretary Kevin] Gover reiterated his belief that a lack of evidence should not necessarily be used to punish a petitioning group. "If we had evidence that a tribe was there in 1889 and we found evidence that the tribe was there in 1905, I was willing to assume that between 1889 and 1905, they were still there," he said. "They were there the whole time."
BIA Critical of Main Components of Recognition Bill, Indianz.com, 4/22/04
4) Blumenthal is using the Schaghticokes' recognition to say the whole recognition process is corrupt. But where's the evidence of that? One questionable result doesn't prove the process is corrupt. It doesn't prove anything except the BIA's willingness to make exceptions in one particular case.
If Blumenthal has more evidence of the BIA's corruption, he failed to mention it in any of the stories on the Schaghticokes. Nor did he offer any evidence against the Schaghticoke decision until the "smoking gun" memo surfaced. The obvious conclusion: Where there's no smoking gun, there's no fire.
As the Congressional testimony continued, this conclusion became more and more certain. From the hearings again:
Despite the heavy charges aired during the hearing, witnesses offered little proof that the $16 billion tribal gaming industry has played a role in the way the BIA makes its decisions....
"Do we have direct evidence that [lobbyists] influenced the process? No," admitted Benedict, an advocate for the failed policy of termination.
Critics take BIA to task over federal recognition, Indianz.com, 5/6/04
Report repudiates Benedict and Blumenthal
The evidence continues to mount that Benedict & Co. have no case against the Schaghticokes. Their position is simply that "any recognition we don't like" is wrong.
Investigation Upholds Tribal Recognition
3:01 PM EDT, August 31, 2004
By RICK GREEN, The Hartford Courant
An internal investigation by the Department of Interior found no wrongdoing in the controversial decision granting federal recognition to the Schaghticoke Indians.
While supporting the Schaghticoke ruling, the probe by Interior's Inspector General Earl E. Devaney found that there is no clear standard for granting federal recognition to tribes, a distinction that carries unique entitlements, including limited sovereignty.
BIA regulations are "permissive and inherently flexible" when it comes to recognizing Indian tribes, Devaney said in his report, which came in the form of a letter to U.S. Sen Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. Devaney also noted that casino investors, led by Subway Restaurants founder Federick DeLuca, had spent more than $12 million to win federal recognition for the Schaghticokes.
Under federal law, BIA-recognized tribes may operate casino-style gambling in Connecticut. The tribe has said that it plans to open a casino — ideally in Bridgeport — though it has not ruled out gambling on the Schaghticoke's reservation in rural Kent.
Because the regulations used to recognize tribes are so flexible, Devaney found there was no evidence that the BIA "bent the rules" in recognizing the Schaghticokes. In the letter to Dodd, Devaney wrote that a BIA memorandum that outlined how the tribe could be recognized despite not meeting federal criteria was merely part of the "administrative" process.
Dodd requested the inspector general's probe in March, citing a Hartford Courant article reporting that the memo, written by BIA staff, detailed how the Schaghticokes could be granted recognition. Devaney said his staff reviewed "thousands of documents" and interviewed senior BIA employees and officials in Connecticut, including tribal leaders and Paul Manafort, a self-described "influence peddler" in Washington, D.C., who was hired to work on behalf of the Schaghticokes.
"Although the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation decision was highly controversial, we found that [the BIA] … conducted themselves in keeping with the requirements of the administratative process."
Devaney found "no evidence to support the allegations that lobbyists or representatives for [the Schaghticokes] directly or indirectly influenced BIA officials to grant Federal acknowledgement" to the tribe.
"Mr. Manafort also told us he had no contact with Department of Interior employees regarding the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation's acknowledgement." Employees at the department "also denied having been contacted by any Schaghticoke Tribal Nation lobbyist."
Devany's office also looked at whether the BIA had "a personal bias" toward Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, an outspoken critic of the agency. Town officials in Kent said that e-mails from the BIA were evidence of this, but Devaney found "none that could be construed as showing a personal bias toward the attorney general."
Note that an unclear process isn't necessarily an immoral or corrupt one. If the recognition process is unclear, then clarify it. But don't blame tribes that successfully navigate the unclear waters for muddying them in the first place.
If at first you don't succeed...
Blumenthal tries again. From the Litchfield County Times:
Blumenthal: Fatal Flaw Seen On Schaghticokes
By: Kathryn Boughton
A report from the United States Department of the Interior's Office of Hearings and Appeals appears to have undermined the validity of some of the data that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs relied upon last January in granting recognition to the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation (STN).
In light of the finding, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has called for an immediate reversal of that recognition, which has been criticized and challenged by top Connecticut officials from the moment it was announced--in part because of the possibility that the tribe, with a reservation in Kent, could use it as a stepping stone to opening a casino.
"We will take action before the Internal Board of Indian Appeals [IBIA] immediately seeking denial of the Schaghticoke recognition decision," Mr. Blumental said in a statement issued Wednesday. "Once confronted with the mistake, the only conclusion can be to deny the group's recognition petition."
The data in question concerns marriage rates for tribal members. There are seven criteria that tribes are required to meet to obtain tribal recognition from the federal government. Among those are a continuous community and continuity of political influence in historic times. The STN used its information for intra-tribal marriages to prove both its continuing tribal existence and, by extension, its political influence.
The most recent Department of Interior filing acknowledges, however, that the percentages of Schaghticoke-to-Schaghticoke marriages in the 19th century was overstated. For instance, if three Schaghticokes were married, two to each other and the third to a non-tribal member, it should be counted as two marriages--one that supported tribal continuity and one that did not. But in the STN recognition process, individuals were counted, so the intra-Indian marriage was tabulated as two marriages and the interracial marriage as one.
Kent First Selectman Dolores Schiesel said it has been difficult for researchers to determine precedent established by the BIA for acceptable marriage rates, but that previous tribal recognitions seem to have established a benchmark of 50 percent. When the intra-marriage rate is calculated properly for the Schaghticokes, according to Mr. Blumnethal, the rate drops to below 20 percent.
Furthermore, the calculation drops below the 50 percent mark whether the percentage is based on marriages or members, according to the interior department's own report.
The report concludes that "[T]he Summary under the Criteria for the final determination [for the] STN is not consistent with prior precedent in calculating the rates of marriages ... and provides no explanation for the inconsistency ... The analysis ... in the Summary and in the carryover ... therefore, should not be affirmed on these grounds absent explanation or new evidence."
"This dynamite concession means that recognition must be denied," Mr. Blumenthal said in his statement. "It is an apparently unprecedented, unique admission of error. The BIA used the marriage rate to satisfy an essential recognition requirement for almost the entire 19th century. Without the now discredited marriage information, the BIA has conceded that it had insufficient evidence to recognize the Schaghticoke group."
Mrs. Schiesel said the report reinforces the town's assessment of the marriage data. She said Town Attorney Jeff Sienkiewicz recognized early the inconsistency in the data put forward by the tribe. "He just kept picking at it," she said. "He saw this stuff from the beginning and did a great deal of research on the marriage analysis. He felt the [BIA] had not followed precedent when it used the STN data to support acknowledgement."
In a statement issued following an executive session meeting Tuesday night, the Kent Board of Selectmen said it was "pleased to see serious research being conducted within the Department of Interior in acknowledgement decisions. Matching the facts and law means a truthful outcome for Kent for truly deserving Indians."
Both Kent and Connecticut are playing a high-stakes game in trying to overturn the much-criticized BIA decision recognizing the Schaghticoke tribe. The STN, led by Chief Richard Velky, is located in Derby, but claims tribal lands in Kent. If the recognition stands, the STN, backed by gambling interests, wants to build another casino in Connecticut.
If it cannot obtain state approval for purchase of land elsewhere, and if the federal recognition stands, it is ensured of the right to build the facility on its reservation in Kent--unless the state could successfully argue that the repeal of the law allowing gambling events for charitable purposes means that Connecticut formally repudiates organized gaming. Tribes with recognition are allowed to open casinos in states that allow gambling, and Connecticut's former Las Vegas Nights statute was interpreted as a precedent showing the state's sanctioning of organized gaming.
In addition to its gaming plan, the STN has filed lawsuits to recover more than 2,000 acres of former tribal land in Kent that it asserts were illegally sold in the 19th century.
More on the story
Tribe's foes, supporters battle over BIA reversal
Decision to recognize two Indian tribes reversed in Conn.
To me, the interesting thing isn't that the Schaghticokes' recognition may be flawed—perhaps fatally. I don't take any position on their recognition effort because I'm not an expert on their history.
No, the interesting thing is how Benedict and Blumenthal keep coming up with excuses that they didn't offer originally to protest the decision. They didn't know any of the flaws in the Schaghticoke application before it was approved; they were just guessing.
They oppose the Schaghticokes not because they want a transparent or "fair" process, but because they oppose all Indians on principle (if you can call it that). This "principle" seems to be nothing more than a selfish attitude of "I've got mine so you can't have yours."
Their claims that they oppose more casinos, not more Indians, seem disingenuous at best. There are many ways to oppose a casino without claiming the Indians who want the casino are cheaters and phonies. Why tar and feather the whole recognition process, thereby harming tribes with longstanding, legitimate claims across the nation, if your only purpose is to stop a local casino?
Let's assume the decisions to recognize the Schaghticokes and the Eastern Pequots remain reversed. What does that tell us?
It tells me that the recognition process works. Although it didn't have to, the BIA listened to critics like Benedict and Blumenthal, who offered no evidence to disprove the tribes' claims. When the tribes' applications proved faulty—with details that turned up late in the game—the BIA suspended its decisions to recognize them. When the tribes couldn't rectify their flawed applications, an appeals board overturned the recognitions.
Once again, tribes that have existed for hundreds of years are denied recognition. Inevitably, only a small minority of the tribes seeking recognition obtain it. Yet somehow the process is fatally flawed and the government is handing out recognition like candy? Rubbish.
Still more on the story
Ironically, Connecticut officials stand accused of doing exactly what they accused the Schaghticokes of doing: applying political pressure to a supposedly neutral and apolitical process. Can you say "hypocrites"?
Schaghticoke uncover possible 'smoking gun'
Posted: August 29, 2005
by: Gale Courey Toensing / Indian Country Today
Alleged court order violations revealed
KENT, Conn. -- Information gleaned from recent depositions could provide the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation with a "smoking gun," proving Connecticut's elected officials may have violated a federal court order by using a private citizens group and its lobbyists as proxies to exert political influence on the Department of the Interior to overturn the tribe's federal acknowledgment.
Attorneys for the tribe have drawn a picture of a closely knit relationship among local and state elected officials, a citizens group called Town Action to Save Kent and its high-powered Washington, D.C. lobbying firm, Barbour, Griffith & Rogers. All of these groups worked together to coordinate efforts to rescind the Schaghticokes' federal recognition, according to testimony and documents obtained during depositions conducted in July and included in a brief filed Aug. 16 in U.S. District Court.
District Court Judge Peter Dorsey prohibited contact between Interior and the BIA and all parties involved in the Schaghticoke petition, including town and state officials, according to a court order issued in 2001 that was amended last year.
However, an affidavit and lobbyist registration document confirm BGR lobbyists contacted Interior and BIA officials directly -- and as recently as May 2005 -- in an effort to influence the federal government to overturn the tribe's recognition.
The tribe's attorneys maintain TASK's lobbyists were acting as surrogates for Connecticut officials in support of the town and state appeals of the tribe's recognition.
A lack of Interior fortitude
Posted: October 13, 2005
by: Editors Report / Indian Country Today
The Interior Department's Oct. 12 reversal of recognition for two Connecticut tribes tells more about the federal government than it does about the very strong petitions of the Eastern Pequots and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation. It says that senior Indian Affairs officials are too cowardly and careerist to be trusted to defend tribal interests. It also suggests to us that accusations of corruption at the White House level can no longer be ignored.
One detail from Interior's action speaks volumes. Instead of telephoning tribal officials and speaking to tribal leadership directly, Associate Deputy Interior Secretary James Cason sent his decisions by fax. Aurene Martin, the last Indian to head the BIA, showed more courage last summer when she notified the Nipmuc Nation in a personal conference call about the equally dubious reversal of their recognition. We can understand the embarrassment and bad conscience at Interior, but this act of petty cowardice illuminates the deeper void in leadership at the BIA. Interior personnel are answering not to the tribes, but to their enemies.
Since the departures of Dave Anderson and Martin from the BIA, the Bush administration has made no visible effort to appoint a successor. The caretakers supervising the bureau have not made any attempt that we've noticed to speak against a constant stream of slanders against its staff. In fact, the acting head took the occasion of a meeting of tribal leaders (the United South and Eastern Tribes' mid-year session in July) to criticize the competency of his underlings.
The days when Kevin Gover would stand up to anti-Indian politicians are a distant memory. With this lack of support, it's no wonder that BIA professionals are demoralized and easily rolled.
The force of outside pressure provides the only explanation for the abrupt about-face on the recent recognition reversals. The arguments in Cason's faxes go beyond the decisions from the Interior Board of Indian Appeals that voided the earlier positive determinations. Without any evident logic they repudiate key points of the earlier findings. In 2002, the BIA found historical continuity between the formerly feuding Eastern Pequots and Paucatuck Eastern Pequots and recognized them as one nation -- a finding heartily endorsed by their brothers of the Mashantucket (Western) Pequot Tribal Nation. The Eastern Pequots, in fact, have healed their split -- an inspirational example to all Indian country.
But now Cason argues that the earlier split shows they failed to satisfy the criterion of continuous community: "The two separate communities after the early 1980s are not the same community that existed before that time." The BIA earlier pulled a similar trick on the Nipmuc Nation, completely changing the criteria it had used in 2002 to give it a positive determination.
Don't bother looking for consistent logic. It's painfully obvious that Interior is arbitrarily changing standards, hair-splitting and imposing impossible conditions to reach a pre-determined result -- no "new" federally recognized tribes.
When the government says it has a process, and then keeps changing the process to make it impossible to satisfy, one has to wonder if it is in fact denying due process. This becomes a matter for the federal courts. Several recognition petitions have already wound up before properly appalled federal judges. The Schaghticokes, for one, are talking about a federal lawsuit, and they seem to us to have some very good issues.
The first issue, of course, would be the arbitrary action of the Interior bureaucracy. But a further issue might take more than the courts to resolve.
The Schaghticokes have caught a whiff of corruption about their treatment. They are charging that Connecticut politicians and the wealthy neighbors of their historic northwest Connecticut reservation used improper influence on Interior and the White House. The townspeople of affluent Kent hired the consulting firm founded by the well-connected Haley Barbour to lobby against recognition. The Schaghticokes have found evidence that the lobbyists arranged a White House meeting before the IBIA voided the Connecticut recognitions.
This charge might sound ironic, given the high volume of the charges from Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and his fellow Indian-fighters that financial backers of the petitioners were corrupting the BIA recognition process to get casinos. Like much propaganda, these charges now sound like what the psychologists call projection: accusing your enemy of doing what you mean to do yourself.
The documented evidence of improper conduct all concerns the opposition to the tribes. Blumenthal lobbied Interior Secretary Gale Norton in violation of court orders. The law firm representing the towns hired a former BIA recognition officer to help it beat the Eastern Pequot petition that she helped prepare. And of course the towns, state officers and, shamefully, the Connecticut congressional delegation kept up a vociferous, distorted and even lying campaign against the petitioning tribes, their backers and Indian country itself.
The mainstream media largely swallowed this campaign and its underlying bigotry. Shoddily researched books by a certain Jeff Benedict and several imitators continue to be cited uncritically. They draw on an underlying hatred and resentment of Connecticut Indians that has to be experienced to be believed. This bigotry is surfacing more frequently in national discourse. Lou Dobbs can't go half a minute into his nightly broadcast on CNN without attacking "illegal immigrants." White supremacists have picked up the chant, and they are talking about the indigenous peoples of the continent, not Europeans. The leader of one fringe anti-immigrant group in Connecticut recently told the Hartford Courant that he could identify illegals by their "Mayan features."
Indian country must and can unify to defeat this threat, but some soul-searching and purification will first be in order. Some recognized tribes have intervened in the recognition process, openly or not, to keep down would-be rivals. In the aftermath of the Oct. 12 decision, Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean cited this tribe-against-tribe lobbying as a reason for declining to criticize the Bush administration's action.
Some of these interventions come from tribal histories of schisms and ancient rivalries. Others look simply like attempts to preserve market share for tribal casinos. Whatever the cause, this internecine sabotage hurts all of Indian country and will surely blow up in the face of the established tribes playing this game. In spite of these blemishes, this generation of tribal leaders has shown reserves of strength and wisdom that it will need as it faces a growing challenge, by itself.
Anti-Indian forces have been smelling blood for some time. They are already re-energized, and the Connecticut experience will boost their spirits even higher. Indian country urgently needs to wake up and begin deploying its own resources to fight this threat. We are certainly not going to get any help in the struggle from the BIA in Washington, D.C.
Schaghticoke seek investigation of reversal
Posted: December 02, 2005
by: Gale Courey Toensing / Indian Country Today
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.
McDonnell: Connecticut's campaign to exterminate the Schaghticokes
Posted: May 12, 2006
by: Edward McDonnell III
A genteel genocide continues apace in Connecticut; not of a people, but of a long, proud heritage. The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation gained federal recognition in 2004 after 25 years of struggle.
Strident opponents exacted a heavy price: less-than-ideal financial backing from an investor seeking to build a third casino in Connecticut. Federal recognition and plans to construct an entertainment facility in Bridgeport only redoubled the state's century-old campaign to exterminate the Schaghticokes.
Connecticut's public leaders placed private agendas ahead of public fairness by browbeating the U.S. Department of the Interior into revoking that recognition last October.
Natives had better stand together with the Schaghticokes — emulating the recent show of solidarity by the gracious tribal council chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag — lest other hard-won sovereignties suffer similar overthrows.
In this case, appealing news copy of old-line Yankees defeating "ragtag" minions of casino thugs hid the real wrongdoing.
The only green in the grass-roots organization behind this apparent popular outcry — the Town Action to Save Kent group — was the money it spent to scuttle Schaghticoke sovereignty by surreptitiously insinuating its way into Interior, the White House and a standing committee of the U.S. Senate.
TASK even finagled a front-of-the-bus seat on presidential aspirant John McCain's "Straight-Talk Express."
Public figures — in and out of government, from both political parties, inside and outside the Beltway — harmonized the hackneyed hype of "good government" into a symphony of subversion.
Democratic Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Christopher Dodd, supporters until the Schaghticokes attained recognition, complained that the federal recognition process was "broken."
An inspector general reviewed the recognition for six months in mid-2004, at Dodd's behest, clearing Interior, the BIA and the STN of any wrongdoing.
Instead, this independent investigation concluded that the process had been transparent. Dissatisfied with this outcome, the senators let their Connecticut cronies crush the Schaghticokes.
Richard Blumenthal placed political ambition ahead of his duty as Connecticut attorney general by illegally circumventing a federal court order against covert lobbying of federal officials by interested parties.
Blumenthal subsequently lied on statewide television, claiming that he would "no more" contact such officials during a proceeding "than call the president." He basically did both. If anyone broke the BIA machinery, he did.
Republican Reps. Nancy Johnson and Christopher Shays were equally shameless in tampering with the recognition process by co-signing a letter to Interior, inappropriately demanding an unwarranted reversal. Representing the town of Kent and surrounding areas, including the tribal reservation, Johnson derided the Schaghticokes as impostors. She proposed a bill in Congress to terminate their existence. This Midwest native knows as much about Connecticut's history as the nonresidents bankrolling TASK.
Please give Johnson credit, however, for her principled refusal to return contributions emanating from the kingmaker of Indian casino sleaze, Jack Abramoff.
Only when she could no longer use disgraced Rep. Tom DeLay to get the coveted chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee did Johnson surrender the booty.
Caving in to Johnson, Shays turned his back on 10,000 new jobs in his district even though 87 percent of the people in Bridgeport favored the urban reclamation envisioned by the Schaghticokes.
TASK stoked popular passions by warning that the Schaghticokes would build a casino in quaint little Kent, marring its beauty and overwhelming its infrastructure.
This "Town Auction to Sell Kent" (a bill of goods) had the deep pockets and decibels to drown out assurances by the Schaghticokes that construction would occur 50 miles away in Bridgeport — Connecticut's largest and poorest city.
Testifying before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Republican Gov. Jodi Rell manifestly overstated the housing congestion of Connecticut's northwest corner as a reason to overturn recognition. Only one non-Schaghticoke residence lies on the 2,200 acres currently under dispute; none of the soil in question has been tilled for anything in 200 years.
The Kent School, prideful of its religious tradition, dredged up tribal lands to elevate the headmaster's new mansion to spare it from seasonal flash floods. This school blithely ignored state laws to preserve artifacts that might have lain there.
Tribal leaders looked on helplessly as the headmaster, an ordained Episcopal priest, allowed dump trucks to fill that crater with solid, often toxic, wastes.
The Rev. Richardson Schell scorned more than the tribe's history; he brushed aside environmental concerns by placing that thinly covered garbage dump near a tributary of the Housatonic River.
Publicly available information proves that TASK, Johnson and Blumenthal, et al., committed the very transgressions they themselves accuse of the Schaghticokes.
Nevertheless, a lie said for the thousandth time is no closer to the truth than when it was first uttered.
This invective against American Indians is not about spillover costs of casinos. The catalyzing issue remains land; the STN lost 95 percent of theirs through illegal sales by state-appointed officials.
Federal recognition remains a prerequisite for the STN to enjoy the fair hearing to which they are entitled. With sovereign status, the tribe can enforce valid claims through the 1790 Non-Intercourse Act.
State, local and community leaders should end their shameful shenanigans against the Schaghticokes. The tribe deserves a better reservation than a rocky rump in the middle of nowhere. The Schaghticokes have always been good neighbors, as most longtime Kent residents remember, serving Connecticut in war and observing the peace.
The extinction of a tiny people may not add up to a whole lot for everyday American citizens. Yet, in a democracy that not so long ago viewed a Great Society in terms of decency rather than dollars, "might making right" poisons the fairness vital to its longevity.
Edward J. McDonnell III, CFA, serves as an unpaid financial adviser to the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation.
Gale Norton told: Reverse recognition or be fired
Posted: January 26, 2007
by: Gale Courey Toensing / Indian Country Today
WASHINGTON — Two months after the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation received federal recognition in 2004, then-Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton attended a meeting at which a powerful congressman threatened to use his influence at the White House to get her fired if she did not reverse the tribe's federal status, court documents have revealed.
The congressman was Republican Frank Wolf of Virginia, who is known in Indian country as no friend of the nations.
There were plenty of witnesses to the politically-charged threat, which took place at a meeting in late March 2004 at Connecticut Republican Rep. Christopher Shays' office. Attending were other Connecticut congressmen, who themselves had vociferously lobbied Interior and the White House against the Schaghticokes' federal recognition and, in what may reflect a case of collective projection, had accused the BIA of political influence and corruption in recognizing the tribe.
"During that meeting, Representative Frank Wolf, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and one of the principal opponents of Indian gaming in Congress, threatened to go the President to have Secretary Norton removed from her job if she did not reverse the Tribe's Positive Final Determination," attorneys for the tribe wrote in a Jan. 12 brief for the tribe's appeal of the BIA's unprecedented reversal of its own previous decision.
The appeal is filed in Connecticut federal court and names the Secretary of Interior (now Dirk Kempthorne), Interior, Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason, the BIA, the Office of Federal Acknowledgement and the Interior Board of Indian Appeals as defendants. It asks the court to restore the tribe's federal acknowledgement, citing violations of due process and improper political influence by Connecticut politicians and their surrogates, including an anti-Indian group called Town Action to Save Kent, and its White House-connected lobbyist, Barbour Griffith & Rogers.
Norton tried to downplay Wolf's threat, the attorneys said, but noted that "she returned to the Department and told her underlings about it — an action that ensured, if nothing else, that others within the Department became aware of Rep. Wolf's disapproval of the Tribe's recognition and his threat to pursue it if not reversed."
Norton's revelation emerged in early January when she and Cason were questioned under oath by the tribe's attorneys.
As a result of their testimony, attorneys have asked the court to allow questioning of TASK and BGR, and to review documents Norton said she took home with her when she left Interior last March. Government lawyers stopped the tribal attorneys from seeing the documents.
Norton said she was actively involved in the tribe's Final Determination, which she approved in January 2004. She also stood by the BIA's decision to use state recognition in the process.
"She testified that she and the members of the staff handling that recognition decision made a considered policy judgment that, as a matter of constitutional principles of federalism, the Tribe's hundreds of years of State recognition merited important consideration in the recognition process. Ms. Norton also asserted that, to this day, she believes that she and her staff made a fair and reasonable decision in issuing the Positive Final Determination recognizing the tribe," the attorneys wrote.
Cason, who wrote in an affidavit that he was "the ultimate decision maker for decisions issued under the federal acknowledgement regulations," signed off on the Reconsidered Final Determination that quashed the tribe's acknowledgment in October 2005.
In an argument that defied logic, the RFD rejected state recognition as valid supplemental evidence for both the Schaghticoke and Eastern Pequots, whose federal recognition was rescinded on the same day.
Cason testified — "mistakenly," the attorneys said — that he had to reverse the tribe's recognition because the Interior Board of Indian Appeals had vacated the positive decision and sent it back to the BIA "for further work and reconsideration."
He said that he based the recognition reversal "entirely on the recommendation and advice of [OFA Director] Lee Fleming," given at a meeting held on Oct. 5, 2005.
Despite the fact that the Schaghticoke decision would set a BIA precedent and be of historic importance not only to the tribe, but throughout Indian country, Cason said he did not take notes during the oral presentation.
David Bernhardt, Norton's then-deputy chief of staff; Barbara Coen, an attorney in Interior's Solicitor's Office; and others attended the meeting. Everyone participated in the deliberative process, Cason said, but he "could not recall the names of any of the other Interior employees who reported to him and advised him during that meeting," the attorneys wrote.
Since Cason denied any direct outside influence, the attorneys have asked the court to allow them to interview Fleming, Bernhardt and Coen to see if any outside influences affected them.
"Just as improper political pressure directed at the final 'decision maker' will invalidate the decision, political pressure directed at agency staff members, political advisors, and legal advisors who participate in the deliberative process will also invalidate the decision," the attorneys said.
In arguing for further testimony, the attorneys said Fleming was "aware of and subject to Congressional pressure aimed at overturning the Tribe's Positive Final Domination." They pointed to congressional hearings where Connecticut officials cited the Schaghticoke recognition in trashing the BIA's process as "fatally flawed, lawless, and illogical," and where Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal asked Congress to abolish the OFA, impose a moratorium on all recognitions and investigate the BIA.
Fleming experienced direct political pressure from former Connecticut Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson, who tried to stage a press conference while giving Interior officials petitions about the Schaghticoke recognition.
"This is a PR ploy," Fleming said in an e-mail to colleagues. "I view this as pressure from an elected official. The federal acknowledgement process is not a popularity contest or poll."
Cronyism Sank Effort By Indians
September 25, 2007
We know about all the press conferences, the showboat congressional hearings and the charges of corruption that dominated the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation's long, unsuccessful fight for federal recognition.
Now, as the Schaghticokes, whose reservation is in Kent, make a final pitch to revive their case in federal court, it's clear powerful forces were at work behind the scenes. Led by our congressional delegation, opponents went straight to the top in their effort to undo the tribe's federal recognition.
In the spring of 2004, Margaret Spellings, then President Bush's domestic policy adviser and now secretary of education, along with other senior aides, began a series of meetings with tribal opponents, including U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4th District, according to documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court in New Haven.
That's a top, trusted aide to the president, working with Schaghticoke opponents.
The tribal recognition process is required, by law, to be free from politics. A series of federal court rulings support this.
By the fall of 2005 the Schaghticoke recognition and that of another Connecticut tribe, the Eastern Pequots, was revoked, the first time the government reversed a decision like this.
There's no proof Spellings put the fix in. But we know three loud voices against the Schaghticokes — Shays, Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons — were Republicans facing tough re-election races for their House seats in both 2004 and 2006. We know the White House was paying particularly close attention to Shays.
Maybe it is a stretch, but this is the Bush White House, where politics trumps all. A recent Washington Post investigation of the Bush administration noted that "political appointees at every level of government pushed a uniform agenda in key media markets and on behalf of White House-backed candidates." In the run-up to the 2006 election, Shays announced 25 federal grants or projects and administration officials visited seven times.
U.S. District Judge Peter Dorsey must entertain these questions as he considers whether to grant the tribe another shot at recognition, which it won in 2004 — and then lost in 2005.
What if the Schaghticokes really did meet the federal criteria for a tribe, but political pressure prevented a fair consideration?
"The regulations do not permit participants in the process — or their proxies — to present arguments and evidence in secret, ex parte meetings, letters or other communications to the agency, nor do they permit anyone to subvert the acknowledgement process by pressuring agency decision makers," lawyers for the Schaghticoke say in their court brief.
It's well known that if the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation won federal recognition, they wanted to open a casino, perhaps near Kent.
I agree we have enough casinos, Indian or otherwise. It's easy to see why residents of Kent, a slice of pristine New England, would do whatever they could to keep a casino out.
"From secret backroom meetings with Interior officials and other officials within the Bush administration to a carefully coordinated public media campaign," the Schaghticokes state, "the tribe's opponents took every opportunity to send a strong, persistent message to the Department of [the] Interior."
The more that dribbles out of Washington, the more this one stinks. Politics isn't supposed to figure in. If they aren't a tribe, fine. But decide on the facts, not backroom politics.
Rick Green's column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The critics of Indian gaming—and why they're wrong
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