Federal Recognition Denied to Two Indian Groups in Connecticut
October 12, 2005 -- Implications for the Akaka Bill
Note: This webpage is based on an article by Kenneth Conklin published in Hawaii Reporter on October 14, 2005 entitled: "Federal Recognition Denied to Two Indian 'Tribes' in Connecticut -- Implications for the Akaka Bill" at: http://www.hawaiireporter.com/story.aspx?a5fdae5b-0691-418e-a8eb-3e5eaebcf478
On Oct. 12, 2005 the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) gave final notification to two Indian "tribes" in Connecticut that their applications for federal recognition have been denied. See two articles from the Hartford Courant for Oct. 12 and 13 reporting the details, at
and also a "Timeline of Eastern Pequots and Schaghticoke petitions" at
These two Connecticut "tribes" have been seeking federal recognition for about 25 years. The BIA had previously notified one of them, in June 2002, that a "final determination" had been made granting it recognition. But the governor of Connecticut, and many other local officials, fought very hard to reverse that decision. Now, in October 2005, the people of Connecticut have successfully fought the federal bureaucracy and two well-financed "tribes."
There are three reasons why this news is important for Hawaii as we struggle to defeat the Akaka bill.
- (1) We must understand that many communities and states which already were severely impacted by Indian tribes are strongly opposed to creating (phony) additional tribes in their area. "Fight like hell" is their rallying cry -- a good slogan for the people of Hawaii. For discussion of the impact of tribal recognition on local communities and businesses; and numerous examples of community opposition; see:
The history of tribal recognition struggles in Connecticut is of special interest to Hawaii.
The Mashantucket Pequot "tribe" of Connecticut, a phony new tribe unable to qualify for federal recognition according to the usual requirements, successfully lobbied Congress to get a special bill passed (similar to the Akaka bill). Sen. Dan Inouye, then chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, was primarily responsible for getting that tribe recognized. Inouye accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the tribe and its affiliated contractors (tribes are sovereign and therefore exempt from campaign spending laws). Once recognized, that tribe built the world's largest gambling casino (Foxwoods) in a residential suburban area, causing tremendous hardship to the community. A book written by Jeff Benedict describes the corrupt process leading to the Congressional recognition: "Without Reservation: The Making of America's Most Powerful Indian Tribe and the World's Largest Casino."
The huge profits generated by the phony new tribe encouraged other alleged tribes in Connecticut to redouble their efforts to get recognized, including the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of Kent and the Eastern Pequots of North Stonington. The Eastern Pequots were in fact granted recognition by the BIA. But there was such an outcry of opposition from the Connecticut attorney general, governor, and both U.S. Senators, that the BIA reconsidered its decision and ultimately reversed it this past Wednesday. For some background information about Connecticut's opposition to Indian tribes, and Jeff Benedict's book, see: http://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/AkakaBlumenthalConnecticut.html
- (2) Our federal Congressional delegation, plus OHA and other supporters of the Akaka bill, constantly say that Native Hawaiians are the only indigenous group in the United States who lack federal recognition. They make it sound as though Native Hawaiians are somehow singled out to be discriminated against; and that they deserve parity with other "indigenous" groups.
Most recently, on Oct. 8, 2005, OHA Administrator Clyde Namuo repeated that lie in an article in the Maui News: "It is only right that a policy extended to American Indians and Alaska Natives be extended to Native Hawaiians as well. We are the only indigenous group within the 50 states of the U.S. who has not been given the protections that federal recognition will provide." http://www.mauinews.com/story.aspx?id=13146
Is Namuo saying that "American Indians" and "Alaska Natives" are two groups that have been federally recognized? If so, he's wrong. Over 560 tribes, bands, rancherias, or native groups have been recognized. It is not the racial group of "American Indians" as a whole which gets recognized. Each tribe is a political entity whose tribal government has exercised substantial authority over the daily lives of its members from before European contact continuously through the present time, living separate and apart from surrounding non-native communities.
Federal law contains seven "mandatory criteria," which the Bureau of Indian Affairs must use in deciding whether any particular group is eligible for federal recognition. The criteria are spelled out at great length. Voluminous research and documentation must be submitted by any group applying for recognition, to prove that every requirement is met.
Many "indigenous groups" have been denied recognition because they failed just one (or more) of the requirements. The seven criteria, and some examples of groups which were denied recognition a few years ago, can be seen at: http://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/tribefederalrecognition.html
The great majority of American Indians do not belong to any tribe, and would not be eligible to join one. There are hundreds of Indian groups now seeking federal recognition, some for decades; and most fail to get it. For example, on March 29, 2004, the New York Times published an article saying, "There are now 291 groups seeking federal recognition as tribes, and many have already signed with investors ... Among the dozen or so groups awaiting final determinations from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, two-thirds have casino investors bankrolling them ... If their risk is huge - most would-be tribes have been turned down for recognition - so is their potential payoff." http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/29/nyregion/29TRIB.html?ex=1082285631&ei=1&en=9d33f00c5eae20b0
- (3) It's important to understand that the Akaka bill proposes an entirely new theory of the Constitution that is dangerous to the entire United States. "Native Hawaiians" have never tried to get federal recognition through the long-established procedures of the Bureau of Indian Affaits. That's because everyone knows "Native Hawaiians" could never meet the seven mandatory criteria.
The Indian Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution is Article 1, Section 8, paragraph 3: "The Congress shall have power ... To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes." That clause is clearly discussing the power of Congress to regulate commerce with political entities, which existed before the United States came into being, and which continue to exercise authority over their members.
But the theory of the Akaka bill is that the Indian Commerce Clause gives Congress the power to single out any group of "indigenous people" (only one drop of native blood required) and artificially create a brand new political entity by creating a government exclusively for them. That's not what the Indian Commerce Clause says.
If Congress can do that, then it can grant recognition to all those Indian groups who already applied for recognition and were denied, plus thousands more groups who may apply in the future, plus groups which Congress might arbitrarily assemble even though they have not applied for recognition and do not even consider themselves to be a coherent group.
Imagine America with many thousands of Indian tribes negotiating directly with the federal government for housing, healthcare, education, and other welfare benefits. Each tribe gets goodies in proportion to its political influence (and campaign contributions) -- sort of like individual public schools in Hawaii today lobby the Legislature directly for capital improvement funds. Imagine Mexican-Americans (including "illegal" aliens) having their own "nation within a nation" on the grounds that they are an "indigenous" people (most Mexicans have at least one drop of Aztec or Mayan blood). How about African-Americans as a tribe?
Instead of one nation, America might become merely a shell or holding-company for many thousands of subsidiary nations. Instead of one nation indivisible, with unity; we might become many identity groups thoroughly balkanized and each exercising governmental powers in multifaceted jurisdictional disputes.
Instead of 50 stars on a field of blue, our flag might have thousands of stars whose pointilist montage of tiny white dots would totally hide any hint of blue.
Update December 3, 2005
Indian Country Today, December 02, 2005
Schaghticoke seek investigation of reversal
by: Gale Courey Toensing
KENT, Conn. - The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation will file a formal request with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to investigate the people and process involved in the BIA's recent reversal of the tribe's federal acknowledgment.
The Schaghticoke received federal acknowledgement in January 2004, when the BIA was headed by former Acting Assistant Secretary Aurene Martin.
After more than a year and a half of ferocious opposition by Connecticut officials, an appeal by state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a high-powered lobbying firm's campaign with the White House and congressional representatives, BIA Acting Deputy Secretary James Cason issued a reconsidered final determination rescinding both the Schaghticoke and the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation's federal status on Columbus Day.
It was the first time the BIA has repealed a federal acknowledgement.
The Schaghticokes will ask the Senate committee, among other things, to scrutinize the role played by U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., and her connections to indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and indicted former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff through a $10,000 campaign donation she received from Americans for a Republican Majority, DeLay's political action committee.
We can only ask that turnabout be fair play here with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and that they would hold an investigation to try to find out why a tribe would be recognized and then have its recognition taken away, Schaghticoke Chief Richard Velky said.
The committee will also be asked to probe Johnson's relationship with the powerful Washington, D.C. firm Barbour, Griffith &Rogers, which Fortune magazine ranked as the nation's top lobbying firm.
According to depositions taken by Schaghticoke lawyers, Johnson recommended the lobbying firm to TASK (Town Action to Save Kent), a citizens group of wealthy Kent property owners, which hired the firm to help overturn the tribe's federal status.
The depositions explore whether Connecticut officials violated a federal court order that prohibits contact with Interior Department decision-makers by using TASK's lobbyists as proxies or surrogates.
Both Abramoff and Haley Barbour, the founder of Barbour, Griffith &Rogers and current governor of Mississippi, contributed to Americans for a Republican Majority. Barbour is a longtime GOP insider with direct connections to the White House: he served as White House political director to President Reagan, senior adviser to the George Bush for President campaign in 1988 and as chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The Justice Department and the Indian Affairs committee are conducting ongoing investigations of Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon, concerning allegations that the two defrauded Indian tribes of more than $80 million in a scandal involving kickbacks, dubious campaign contributions and influence peddling.
Documents released during the probe have uncovered an ever-widening and tangled web of public officials who were drawn into the scandal, which was centered on decision-making at Interior regarding Indian tribes.
On Nov. 21, Scanlon pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to violate federal bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud laws. He is cooperating with the ongoing investigation.
Abramoff was a major GOP fund-raiser who DeLay described as his dearest friend. Johnson too is connected to Delay through friendship. Additionally, e-mails released by the Indian Affairs committee link Abramoff to Barbour, who allegedly lobbied members of Congress in support of a Louisiana tribe that was a rival of one of Abramoff's clients.
Both anti-sovereignty and anti-casino, Johnson was one the tribe's most vocal opponents. Like other state officials, her opposition was based largely on an objection to more gaming facilities in the state that is home to two of the world's biggest casinos - Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
Johnson accused the BIA of being corrupt and politically influenced by tribal lobbyists. She claimed the tribe did not meet the criteria for recognition and said the BIA had manipulated regulations in order to grant the Schaghticokes' federal acknowledgment.
She demanded that Interior launch an investigation of the BIA and Schaghticokes; and when the inspector general exonerated the Indian agency and the tribe of any wrongdoing, corruption or influence-peddling, Johnson accused him of whitewashing the investigation.
In early 2005, Johnson entered a bill into Congress to terminate the Schaghticokes' recognition.
Johnson's district includes Kent, where the tribe has a 400-acre reservation on Schaghticoke Mountain - all that remains of 2,500 acres that were first set aside for the tribe in 1736. On Nov. 4, she sent a letter to her 5th District constituents boasting of her role in overturning the Schaghticoke decision.
I have participated in congressional hearings on the tribal recognition process, and on this case in particular. I have pressed our case in meetings with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, who oversees the BIA ... I have fought so hard to make sure the people of Western Connecticut were not forced to accept a Las Vegas-style casino against their will, Johnson wrote.
It comes as no surprise that she probably had something to do with the reversal. We always felt and still feel that we should have kept the recognition that we earned based on the merits of our petition. We know the reversal was somehow politically infected, in Blumenthal's words. Nancy Johnson's letter is just more proof of the involvement and the influence the politicians had on this process, Velky said.
Johnson did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
The Schaghticokes' process was and continues to be regulated under a federal court order that allows a 90-day period for an appeal of the BIA's reconsidered final determination. The tribe is preparing to file the appeal within that timeframe, Velky said.