Connecticut officials praise changes on tribal recognition

By Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s top elected leaders are declaring victory in their efforts to see that it does not become easier for local American Indian tribes to obtain federal recognition.

President Barack Obama‘s administration on Monday issued changes to regulations that have been criticized as cumbersome and lacking transparency. Proposed new rules that were first issued in draft form two years ago were seen by officials in Connecticut as clearing the way for three groups that previously had been denied federal recognition to win the prized status.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Connecticut’s two U.S. senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, said at a news conference Monday afternoon that revisions in the final version will prevent those groups from winning recognition and pressing claims for surrounding lands.

“I would like to thank President Obama and Vice President Biden for heeding our concerns,” Malloy said.

He said the changes ensure that groups in Connecticut that already have fallen short of recognition will be blocked from another attempt.

Connecticut has two federally recognized tribes, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe, which own the country’s two largest Indian-owned casinos in the Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun.

The changes that were initially proposed were seen as benefiting three other Connecticut tribes — the Schaghticokes of Kent, the Golden Hill Paugussetts of Trumbull and Colchester and the Eastern Pequots of North Stonington. Federal acknowledgment can bolster a tribe’s claims to surrounding land, eliminate regulatory barriers to commercial development and bring increased health and education benefits to members.

Connecticut’s congressional delegation said they were pleased the Bureau of Indian Affairs reversed course on a plan that would have given another chance to previously denied petitioners.

“That severely flawed proposal would have forced residents, communities and the state to re-litigate petitions already dismissed with substantial evidence and review — causing needless uncertainty for landowners whose properties may have been claimed as reservation land,” they said.

Leaders of the tribal groups that had been hoping for a new path to recognition did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Connecticut Tribes Band Together In New Push For Expanded Gambling

By Kevin Horridge, www.casino.org

Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are teaming up in an effort to convince Connecticut to allow for expanded gambling. (Image: MoheganSun.com)

Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are teaming up in an effort to convince Connecticut to allow for expanded gambling. (Image: MoheganSun.com)

Expanded gambling in Connecticut was supposed to be dead a month ago. But the proposal seems more alive than ever, as both Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods have been lobbying hard to get the state legislature to at least consider the measure as a way to combat the new casinos that are being built in neighboring Massachusetts.

It’s unclear what the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots, the two tribes that operate the Native American casinos in Connecticut, would ask for or be able to get from state lawmakers.

It could be something as extensive as a brand new casino in northern part of the state that would attempt to convince state residents not to travel to Massachusetts once casinos are built there, or it could be a more modest proposal to add slot machines to off-track betting locations.

Officials, Lawmakers Speak Vaguely of Gambling Expansion

“We’re talking about ways to preserve jobs,” said Mashantucket Pequot chairman Rodney Butler, though he did not specify exactly what he or the tribe were planning. Butler and Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority chairman Kevin Brown traveled together last Wednesday to meet with Democratic leaders in Connecticut’s Senate.

“I view them as a major employer in our state,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk), who a month ago declared their efforts dead but admitted to meeting with the tribal leaders last week. Like others, Duff provided few details on exactly what anyone was proposing.

Despite the lack of concrete proposals being floated publically, there are signs that at least some officials plan to help the tribes battle against increasing competition in the region.

“The gaming industry never goes away,” said State Representative Stephen Dargan (D-West Haven), who says the Public Safety and Security Committee that he chairs is likely to approve some kind of gambling expansion bill by a March 19 deadline. “It’s always an interesting topic.”

The sudden increase in chatter around the casino industry comes after last Wednesday’s release of the Northeastern Casino Gaming Research Project’s latest update. According to the group’s most recent report, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun has seen both their revenues and their employment rolls shrink by more than 35 percent since 2006, when the casinos were at their peaks. The combined revenue for the two casinos was just $1.9 billion last year, down from $3.2 billion in 2006.

Governor Acknowledges Issue, But Isn’t Taking Sides

Even Governor Dannel Malloy was willing to talk about the possibility of expanded gambling in his state, though he was careful not to take a position on the issue.

“This is not my proposal,” Malloy said to reporters while at the Mohegan Sun casino. “Other people are making it. I’m not saying no, I’m not saying yet.”

Malloy also acknowledged that the tribes are likely to need to do something once the MGM Springfield casino opens, which is expected to happen in 2017.

“Whether it’s nuclear or not, obviously gaming is becoming ubiquitous,” Malloy said. “And so when you have a state on your northern border that is going to have at least six establishments, that’s an issue. When Rhode Island improves their facilities, that’s an issue. I think the tribal nations have said, ‘Hey, we think this is a way to handle that.’”

Connecticut presses BIA to scrap Indian recognition proposal

By Ana Radelat, The Connecticut Mirror

Washington — The administration of Gov. Dannel Malloy has asked the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to scrap proposed rule changes the state believes could lead to recognition of additional Indian tribes in Connecticut.

The BIA has been considering the rule changes for months. The state says the changes could open the door to large land claims and expanded Indian gaming in Connecticut. Yet Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, has said he’s determined to fix what he’s called a “broken” federal recognition process.

The federal tribal recognition rules in place require a tribe to prove its continuous community and political authority since first contact with European settlers. Washburn’s proposal would change that to allow a petitioning tribe to demonstrate it has maintained a state reservation since 1934. Washburn‘s new regulation would also allow tribes that have been denied recognition to apply again.

“The proposed rules represent a dramatic departure from the standards and process governing acknowledgment decisions for nearly 40 years,” Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said in comments filed before a midnight deadline Tuesday. “If adopted as proposed, petitioners could gain recognition in circumstances completely at odds with fundamental principles of tribal acknowledgement. These proposals…are unjustified and should be rejected.”

A new, final Indian recognition rule will be posted within 60 days. It could be modified again based on the comments of the Malloy administration and others, including Connecticut’s tribes.

Gov. Malloy, the Connecticut congressional delegation and most of the state’s political establishment, have pushed back harder than anyone on the proposed rules, even after the BIA changed them to include a provision aimed at blocking three tribes that have long sought recognition in Connecticut — the Eastern Pequots, the Schaghticokes and possibly the Golden Hill Paugussetts.

The BIA had given the Eastern Pequot and Schanghticoke tribes acknowledgement, then withdrew it after an appeal by the state.

At the behest of Connecticut officials, the proposed rules were modified so those who opposed the tribes’ recognition previously would have veto power over a new attempt at recognition.

That infuriated Connecticut’s tribes.

“The BIA failed to consider the long, oppressive history of the state of Connecticut,” wrote Kathleen Sebastian Dring, an elder of the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, in her comments to the agency.

Dring told the BIA that, “The third-party veto undermines the BIA’s attempt to create an equitable and objective process for the tribes” and was “imposed by the BIA after political pressure from Connecticut.”

“As citizens [Eastern Pequot tribal members] are entitled to the equal protection of laws in accordance to the U.S. Constitution,” Dring said.

Chief Richard Velky of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation told the BIA that giving third parties the right to object to new petitions for federal acknowledgement “does not, I believe, comport with the due process and equal protection principles of our Constitution.”

“Nor does the U.S. Constitution provide that a state and its political subdivisions may exercise an absolute veto over the exercise of constitutional authority vested exclusively in the United States government,” Velky wrote.

Meanwhile, Jepsen said the veto provision isn’t a comprehensive enough protection to keep the Connecticut’s tribes from suing the state if it doesn’t  consent to recognition, and “the outcome (of the litigation) is uncertain.”

Jepsen also said he is concerned the proposed regulations wouldn’t block “splinter groups” of Indian tribes from seeking recognition.

Under the proposed rules, the Schagticoke Indian Tribe, a group of Indians that rejected the leadership of the Schagticoke Indian Nation, might be able to apply for federal acknowledgement – and since they were never denied recognition, no veto provision would apply.

Jepsen also called the proposed elimination of the Board of Indian Appeals, which allowed Connecticut to challenge the Eastern Pequot and Schaghticoke recognitions “patently unfair.”

The BIA had granted a Malloy administration request for more time to submit its public comments. The deadline was pushed back from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30.

The entire Connecticut congressional delegation signed a letter that supported the administration’s objections to the proposed recognition rules.

“We…agree the process should be improved,” the letter said, but it recommended more transparency and perhaps a bigger budget, instead of “weakening the longstanding standards for federal recognition.”

The letter backed all of the Malloy administration’s objections and asked the BIA to eliminate the proposal that allowed rejected tribes to petition again for recognition, because the consent requirement or third-party veto, would be challenged in court.

“We note that at least one party is objecting to the consent requirement, contending it may be unconstitutional,” the lawmakers’ letter said.

In all, 255 comments were filed. Many came from tribes and most, like the comment from the National Congress of American Indians, supported Washburn’s efforts.

“Connecticut politicians and their special interests seek to derail justice for Native Americans,” said an unsigned comment. “Please don’t allow the process to become politicized by special interests BIA. Stick to what you believe is fair to Native American tribes.”