Connecticut Towns Join Sen. Blumenthal’s Anti-Indian Campaign

Gale Courey Toensing, Indian Country Today Media Network

Connecticut officials have jumped on Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s bandwagon of opposition to the Interior Department’s proposed revisions to the federal recognition regulations.

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On June 21, Kevin Washburn, Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, unveiled a red lined “Preliminary Discussion Draft” of potential changes to Interior’s process for federally acknowledging Indian tribes.

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Two weeks later Blumenthal organized a meeting in his Connecticut office to rouse local and state officials into fighting the proposed revisions in order to prevent the possible federal acknowledgment of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation (STN), the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation (EPTN), and the Golden Hill Paugusetts. Now those state officials are reaching out to both the federal government and local officials in their efforts to delay and ultimately quash any possibility that those three state-recognized tribes could become federally acknowledged.

On July 22, John Rodolico, Nicholas Mullane and Robert Congdon, respectively, the mayor and first selectmen of the towns of Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston in southeastern Connecticut where the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Mohegan Tribe own and operate Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, wrote to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell complaining about what they claim would be “dramatic consequences for our towns and the state of Connecticut” if the proposed changes were enacted. “Despite the clear effect of the proposal on previously denied and potential future tribal acknowledgment decisions in Connecticut, no meeting has been scheduled anywhere close to our state and a short comment period of only 60 days has been offered,” the elected officials wrote. They did not describe the “dramatic consequences” or the “clear effect” of the proposed revisions on the state, but they asked Jewell to extend the August 16 comment period by 45 days.

Even though Washburn had already announced that Interior would hold both tribal consultations and public comment sessions, the town officials pushed for public comments. “We understand that the announced basis for the release of the preliminary draft is to consult with tribal interests under federal Indian policy. Comments from non-tribal interests are also essential, however. BIA can obtain a full record and be properly advised on the proposal only if it provides sufficient time to review this highly detailed proposal.”

The town officials were an integral part of Blumenthal’s previous organized – and successful – anti-Indian acknowledgment efforts. The former Connecticut attorney general orchestrated a campaign of political opposition that included local, state and federal elected officials and an anti-Indian sovereignty group with a powerful White House-connected lobbyist – Barbour Griffith & Rogers (BGR) – in 2004-2005. After 18 months of relentless lobbying, the BIA in an unprecedented move reversed its Final Determinations and issued Reconsidered Final Determinations (RFD) overturning both the STN and EPTN’s federal acknowledgment. James Cason, Interior’s Associate Deputy Secretary at the time and a non-Indian Bush appointee, issued the RFD.

RELATED: Judge Denies Schaghticoke Federal Recognition Appeal

Ironically, the town officials told Jewell there’s no need to change the regulations. “The current rules have been in effect for over 30 years, and we are aware of no reason to rush through a sweeping revision process such as been proposed in the preliminary discussion draft,” they wrote. These same town officials, however, joined in the chorus of Connecticut official voices that complained that the federal recognition process was “broken” and “tainted by political influence” (even though the Inspector General investigated and found no wrong doing on the part of the tribes or BIA staff) when the EPTN and STN received positive Final Determinations but lauded the regulations and process once the tribes’ acknowledgments were overturned.

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Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Chief Richard Velky could not be reached for comment, nor could a spokesperson for the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation. But an STN member close to the chief who asked not to be named said that Blumenthal and the town officials he leads are “up to their same old tricks. They want the extension only so that they can muster up anti-Indian support across the United States to oppose the tribes in Connecticut like they did in 2004 and 2005. They’ve been prepared to oppose the Schaghticokes for the last 200 years. They really don’t need the extra time – all their opposition is already on file with the federal government.”

According to e-mails reviewed by Indian Country Today Media Network, the e-mail to Jewell was written by Don Baur of the firm Perkins Coie, which represented the towns in previously opposing STN and EPTN. The North Stonington selectman sent the letter to several town officials seeking their signatures or suggesting they write their own letters of opposition to the proposed revisions to the Interior secretary.