By Brian Hallenbeck, TheDay
North Stonington — Dennis Jenkins, chairman of the Eastern Pequot Tribe, on Monday decried the “dirty politics” he said stand to prevent his tribe from getting another shot at federal recognition.
Responding for the first time to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s adoption of a new “rule” governing the recognition process for Indian tribes, Jenkins said “backroom dealings” in Washington had ensured that Connecticut tribes that had been denied recognition in the past would not get the opportunity to reapply for the coveted status that would make them eligible for federal assistance and enable them to pursue casino development.
Jenkins, in a phone interview, also revealed that Katherine Sebastian Dring, a longtime tribal councilor with a background in education and the law, will succeed him as chairman later this month.
“I knew it was going to happen,” Jenkins said, referring to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs’ removal from the final rule a provision that would have allowed three state-recognized tribes in Connecticut — the Eastern Pequots, the Schaghticokes and the Golden Hill Paugussetts — to reapply for recognition. A draft of the rule had also included a provision that would have allowed parties to a successful appeal of a tribe’s recognition to block that tribe’s reapplication. The Easterns won recognition in 2002, only to have it withdrawn three years later after the state and the towns of North Stonington, Ledyard and Preston objected.
Jenkins testified last year against the so-called “third-party veto” provision, which most observers believed would have been found unconstitutional.
“Everyone knew it was in trouble,” Jenkins said of the provision. “But it doesn’t make sense that tribes can’t repetition, whether they go to the back of the line, or the front of the line. There are tribes that were denied at first and then got recognized. The Mohegans were denied, but they were able to submit additional documentation and they got recognized.”
Jenkins said Connecticut’s elected leaders, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and the rest of the state’s congressional delegation, pressured the BIA to prevent the Connecticut tribes from filing new applications for recognition. But, Jenkins said, when the Easterns sought to meet in Washington with Kevin Washburn, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for Indian affairs, they were turned away.
“They got to the president and the bureau,” he said of the politicians. “But Blumenthal and his co-conspirators shouldn’t be doing their high-fives and partying just yet. We’re not going to go down without a fight.”
Leaders of the Schaghticokes and the Golden Hill Paugussetts expressed similar sentiments in the wake of the BIA’s adoption of the new federal-recognition rule.
Jenkins said Eastern Pequot tribal members who are attorneys are looking into ways the tribe can fight the rule.
Elected in 2013 to complete the term of Brian Geer, the former chairman charged with embezzling from the tribe, Jenkins decided some time ago to not seek re-election. He said Sebastian Dring, the tribal council’s corresponding secretary, was the only eligible candidate for the post and would be elected July 25 at the tribe’s annual meeting. Sebastian Dring will not comment on tribal matters until then, Jenkins said.
“Kathy is a very capable person who knows the tribe’s petition inside and out,” he said.
At the annual meeting, tribal members will discuss and vote on a proposed development project that Jenkins declined to identify.
“We’re broke. We need to generate some funding,” he said.
As chairman, Jenkins has repeatedly stated that he doesn’t believe the tribe should pursue a casino if it ever gains federal recognition.
“We would never give up the right to open a casino, but there are so many other economic development projects,” he said. “We have several people interested in working with the tribe on things other than casinos.”