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Thursday, January 29, 2004

Schaghticokes Gain Federal Recognition; Fairfield County Casino Possible

In a blow for Connecticut casino opponents, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs today granted the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation recognition.

The decision could open the door to more gambling casinos in Connecticut, possibly Fairfield County in the Danbury area.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he would appeal the ruling.

Westport First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell and Rep. Christopher Shays were among officials who immediately denounced the decision.

The ruling overturned a preliminary decision and allows the tribe to move forward with plans for a casino along I-84 in western Connecticut.

The tribe has been eyeing the former Union Carbide property around Danbury.

Shays, the 4th Congressional District Republican congressman, said, “It is extremely disappointing the Bureau of Indian Affairs recognized the Schaghticokes as a federal tribe.”

Farrell, who has announced she will seek the Democratic Party nomination to oppose Shays in November, told WestportNow: “It is not totally unexpected, but it is still very disappointing.”

Farrell, who has led anti-casino opponents in lower Fairfield County, said she would call a meeting of area officials to urge the state to do everything it can to overturn the ruling.

In his statement, Shays said: “Because the state tribe only recently re-established family connections which ceased generations ago, it seemed clear they did not meet the BIA criteria of continuity from pre-colonial times. 

“This recognition may enable the Schaghticokes to build a casino, which I believe will be very detrimental to the state.

“We have to respect the process, but I hope the state uses all the resources necessary to seek to overturn the decision.

“I will continue to work with Attorney General Dick Blumenthal to assist him in any way I can with this process.”

Farrell later issued a statement saying: “Today’s decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs causes great concern for the residents of western Connecticut and the state as a whole.

“The Lower Fairfield County Coalition, which is comprised of chief elected officials from Greenwich to Easton, will be meeting with Attorney General Blumenthal, as well as legal representatives, early next week to discuss next steps.

“It is important to note that federal recognition of indigenous peoples and casino expansion are two separate issues. The residents of our area certainly respect the rights and culture of Native Americans.

“Casinos, which to date have been linked to this process, are a completely different issue that will have a significant impact on the region.”

There are now two indian tribes, the Eastern Pequots and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, that have been granted recognition by the BIA. There are two existing Indian casinos in the state.

The State of Connecticut has appealed the decision to recognize the Eastern Pequots.

The Kent-based Schaghticokes were denied recognition in a preliminary decision issued in December 2002.

The tribe subsequently added information to the application to show they have had consistent political leadership and ongoing community.

In addition to the Schaghticokes, at least two other tribes could receive federal recognition this year.

The Golden Hill Paugussetts, who have reservations in Trumbull and Colchester, have submitted the final supplemental information for their application, which will now move into the decision-making process.

The tribe also was denied recognition early last year in a preliminary decision.

It was an enormous victory for the Schaghticokes, who have been working for 22 years to gather the historical and genealogical information critical to obtaining recognition.

“We knew we were the people that should have been federally recognized,” said Chief Richard Velky, with tears in his eyes, according to an AP report.

“What this tribe has been through for the last quarter of a century is unbelievable.”

Federal recognition is the ultimate goal for Indian groups around the county because it makes them eligible for federal funding for education, health care and housing—and to negotiate a gaming compact with the state to open a casino.

Blumenthal, long a critic of the tribe’s petition, had submitted letters to the BIA arguing against recognition.

“This decision is outrageously wrong,” he said after the ruling was announced today.

“The BIA got it right the first time in its preliminary decision. What changed their minds is unfathomable and unforgivable.”

Other state and local officials - including members of Congress - have repeatedly called for an overhaul of the BIA’s recognition process.

They have characterized the agency as overwhelmed, underfunded and too heavily influenced by wealthy interests trying to grab a piece of lucrative tribal gaming revenues.

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Posted 01/29/04 at 08:25 PM  Permalink



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