Kent could face tribal recognition issue again

Bruce Adams came away from a meeting with U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy with "renewed hope" his town of Kent will be protected regarding Indian tribe recognition.

The Kent first selectman met July 10 with the senators in Washington, D.C. to bring his town's concerns about the proposed change to how Indian tribes are federally recognized.

Present for the meeting also were Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, state Rep. Roberta Willis and state Sen. Clark Chapin.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs is considering new rules requiring tribes to trace their ancestry and continuity as a tribal organization only back to 1934.

Tribes must now show continuity and ancestry dating back to "first contact." In Connecticut that would mean the 1600s.

If the change were to go through, the Schaghticokes -- who have a 400-acre reservation in Kent -- could renew their claims of ownership of over half of the Kent School property and the town's Schagticoke Road, as well as the land the town's sewer plant is located on.

"If the tribe is recognized, it would also mean we'd have a sovereign nation across the river that we have no control over as far as what goes on there," Adams said.

"It's all just a proposed, draft regulation at this time. But it's not something we can ignore," Adams added. "I left the meeting more confident that we're all on the same page: that we don't want this to happen given the effects it would have on small towns."

Blumenthal noted the proposed change would "open the flood gates."

"This is a real watershed change, an upheaval moment in the whole tribal recognition process to so lower the bar and dilute the standards," Blumenthal said.

Richard Velky, chief of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, said he is watching the BIA rule-making process.

"The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation looks forward to participating in the process being established by the Department of Interior and BIA," Velky said.

Bill Buchanan, business agent for the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe, which claims it is the true tribe, not Velky's, said he is disappointed by the proposed new guidelines.

The SIT and its leader, Allen Russell, had put its application for tribal status on ice while the Velky faction pursued its recognition bid.

The SIT planned to move forward when the STN "ran out of steam," Buchanan said.

The proposed new guidelines "will make it easier for other tribes to commit fraud like Velky did," Buchanan said.

Staff writers John Pirro and Bill Cummings contributed to this article.

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