Connecticut Tribes Denied Second Chance to Petition for Sovereignty
Flanked by U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Monday that Indian tribes in Connecticut who had previously been denied federal recognition would not be given a second bite at the apple.
“Allowing for re-petitioning by denied petitioners would be unfair to petitioners who have not yet had a review, and would hinder the goals of increasing efficiency and timeliness by imposing the additional workload associated with re-petitions on the Department,” the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ final rule said.
The ruling was the result of several months of contentious debate between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and elected officials in Connecticut who believed that the previously proposed ruling was too threatening for Connecticut citizens.
The current ruling, which the BIA released Monday, shuts down the previous proposal to allow the existence of state reservations to secure a tribe’s recognition.
According to the ruling a tribe’s reservation may be used as evidence in support of application, but this can be refuted by an interested third party, such as the state.
Malloy, who called the proposed rule “offensive” and “threatening,” said that to his knowledge no other state allowed previously denied petitioners a second chance at gaining sovereignty.
He also said that, gone unchecked, the proposed rule would have ensured the recognition of three additional tribes — the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation of North Stonington, the Golden Hill Paugussett Nation of Bridgeport, and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of Kent — and would have put thousands of property owners at risk.
“When tribes are going through recognition process they put title claims on thousands of homeowners’ properties, effectively freezing thousands of houses and businesses from sales for years,” Murphy agreed. “It clouds the title of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Connecticut properties.”
A tribal group recognized as a sovereign entity has rights that can overturn state law, local property rights, zoning laws, and criminal jurisdictions.
For Blumenthal, it was a question of fundamental integrity.
“What the Bureau of Indian Affairs proposed was essentially to gut the standards and criteria that have been applied for decades,” Blumenthal said.
Richard Velky, Chief of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, accused the BIA of bending too far in their effort to retract the previous proposals.
“While we appreciate the Department’s efforts, these rules fall tragically short of the promise to provide a transparent, timely, and consistent process that accounts for the unique histories of tribal communities,” Velky said in a statement. “This outcome betrays the sacred trust and government-to-government relationship between our nation and its tribal sovereigns.”
The statement also said that the tribe would “not be deterred” by the overturned proposal. The Schaghticokes are confident that “justice shall prevail,” perhaps giving backbone to Blumenthal’s suspicion that tribes will take legal action against the ruling.
In order to become recognized by the government, a tribe must prove that it has maintained continuous community and political authority since 1900. The previous ruling had set that date at 1934.
Tribes also must prove that at least 80 percent of their membership descends from a historical tribe.
Currently, only two tribes are federally recognized in Connecticut — the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe.
Malloy said that the potential affects on the state’s relationship with it’s two currently recognized tribes did not influence the effort that went into tightening restrictions for additional tribes.