Connecticut tribe says it has made federal bid, hopes for casino

Washington – A Connecticut tribe says it filed a voluminous petition for federal recognition with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on Friday, a bid it hopes will result in the rights to open a casino in the Danbury area.

William Buchanan, a consultant for the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe of Kent, said the tribe’s petition for federal acknowledgement is the culmination of a 35-year effort.

“Some 80,000 pages of history and genealogy are combined in our petition, proving we are still here, as we have been, long before European explorers hit the shores of what they called New England,” he said.

Gov. Dannel Malloy and Connecticut’s political leadership have fought for years the efforts by three tribes to win recognition, winning a substantial victory last year when the BIA streamlined rules for federal recognition but determined tribes that have lost their bids in the past could not reapply.

That barred the Eastern Pequots of North Stonington, the Golden Hill Paugussetts of Colchester and Trumbull, and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation from making another application.

But the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe says it was never denied recognition because a petition filed years ago never moved forward, while the petition of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation was rejected. The Schaghticoke split occurred in 1986, several years before the tribes made separate applications to the BIA for recognition.

“We and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation are two separate groups with a shared history, each with its own and distinct petition for recognition,” Buchanan said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, who as the state’s attorney general led the state’s fight against attempts by tribes to seek recognition, dismissed the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe’s claims as “frivolous.”

“Based on the history of past, unfounded petitions, lacking any factual or legal merit, this latest attempt seems doomed to failure,” he said. “They can claim whatever they want; they can submit whatever they like. There’s a history of repeated, unfounded submissions to the BIA.”

To help press its claim, the tribe has hired Michael Anderson, a former assistant secretary for Indian affairs in the Clinton administration. Anderson specializes in tribal land recovery and focuses his Washington, D.C.-based practice almost exclusively on the representation of tribes.

In Connecticut only two tribes have won federal recognition, which grants tribes autonomy on tribal land from state and local taxation and control, the right to federal aid and the right to open casinos. They are the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans, who have run casinos in the state since the 1990s.

If the BIA approves the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe petition, it could revive land claims that include the site of the Kent School and the land where the Bull’s Bridge hydroelectric plant was built. The tribe claims those lands were once part of its state-authorized reservation.

In addition, Buchanan said the tribe is interested in opening a casino in the Danbury area.

Meanwhile, the state’s other Schaghticoke tribe has not given up its efforts to open a gaming operation in the state.

Barred by the BIA from reapplying for recognition, the Schaghicoke Tribal Nation has hired former Sen. Joseph Lieberman – who once fought against the tribe’s efforts to win federal recognition – to help them sue the state over a law that allows only a joint venture of the state’s two gaming tribes to negotiate with towns interested in hosting a casino, though it doesn’t grant the right to open one.

In their legal challenge, the tribe joined forces with MGM, which also has been blocked from building a casino in Connecticut.

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