String of denials should tell Schaghticoke nation that recognition won't come
After a series of legal defeats stretching back to 2005, it's time for the Kent-based Schaghticoke Indians to accept that they are not going to gain federal recognition.
The speed at which a federal appeals court rendered its decision Monday -- taking less than two weeks after hearing the case to deny federal recognition -- disappointed Schaghticoke Chief Richard Velkey. It also seems to indicate that in the court's view this was not a tough call.
Among other things, the court ruling means talk of a Schaghticoke casino in Danbury, which seemed a possibility a few years ago, might not be heard again.
Trying to get their case heard at the highest level -- the United States Supreme Court -- is the Schaghticokes' option. But unless they come to the courtroom with new evidence, another denial seems inevitable.
Connecticut and the federal government don't need to prove the Schaghticokes are not a living, historical tribe with unbroken structural lineage. Legally, it's up to the Schaghticokes to prove they are all of that. And while the tribe's claims might be just, court decisions are based on evidence.
In January 2004, it seemed the Schaghticokes, who number only about 300, had realized their dream of recognition when the Bureau of Indian Affairs ruled that the tribe had proved its legitimacy. But the state of Connecticut appealed and, led by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, contended that the BIA had been lax in its review.
The bureau reversed its decision in 2005, and in 2008 U.S. District Court Judge Peter Dorsey also ruled against recognition. Monday's decision from the federal appellate court upheld Dorsey's ruling.
The decision was a major disappointment for the Schaghticokes, but received as good news by town officials in Kent, which had also been mentioned a possible casino site.
Tribal recognition is generally seen as the logical precursor to land claims and gaming -- there is a lot of money at stake with each assertion of sovereignty.
The burden of proof is set correspondingly high for tribes. And for the Schaghticokes, it appears to be out of reach.