Schaghticokes thwarted again by feds
A new rule proposed by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs may have put to rest hopes by the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation to claim lands now under private ownership in the town of Kent.
It also might have axed thoughts about building a casino in Danbury.
Under new rules released Monday, July 6, tribes previously denied recognition will not be able to reapply and cannot use centuries-old state recognition to qualify for federal recognition, which would needed to y to operate casinos on tribal land.
The provision appears to rule out new applications by the Schaghticoke Indians, the Golden Hill Paugussett Indians and the Eastern Pequots.
All three tribes have been state recognized but were previously denied federal recognition and unsuccessfully have taken their cases to federal courts.
“This means the state is not for sale,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who referred to gaming interests that would want to weaken the federal recognition process to make it easier for tribes to have casinos on tribal land.
Earlier BIA rule versions would have allowed reapplication.
Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said such a scenario would have “given all the tribes a second bite of the apple. The game would have been rigged for them.”
State Sen. Michael McLachlan of Danbury said the new rule eliminates long-held fears of a casino in the Danbury area.
“Western Connecticut property owners can breath a sigh of relief,” McLachlan said. “Imagine a casino in Danbury or Kent. That could have been our reality.”
Kent First Selectman Bruce Adams is “cautiously optimistic” the ruling may be the end of a long legal battle for his town.
“It seems like good news all around,” Adams said, “what we were looking for. I’m cautiously optimistic that we may be at the end. In conversations with senators Blumenthal and (Chris) Murphy, and the governor’s representative, they all seem pleased.”
The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, based in Derby, has sought control of 2,300 acres in Kent, most of which is owned by the private Kent School.
In December 2014, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the STN does not meet the federal criteria for recognition, and so is not entitled to the land.
The judge relied on the federal Department of the Interior’s 2004 decision that STN had not presented sufficient evidence that it has a distinct tribal community and political authority over tribal members.
The Schaghticokes have a 400-acre reservation in Kent. But members of the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe, which splintered from STN in the 1980s, have been occupying that land.
Richard Velky, longtime chief of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, said Monday he is disappointed by the new rules.
“This outcome betrays the sacred trust and government-to-government relationship between our nation and its tribal sovereigns,” Velky said in a statement.
“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.
He added the tribe will not be deterred and he is confident the Schaghticoke status will be what he termed “rightfully” restored.