Sen. McLachlan: New rules eliminate fears of a casino in Danbury area. (CT Post)

June 29, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Connecticut Post

A new rule proposed by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs will likely stamp out any chance of another federally recognized Indian tribe building a casino in Connecticut.

“This means the state is not for sale,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, referring to gambling interests which wanted to weaken the federal recognition process and make it easier for tribes to gain permission for casinos on their reservations.

Under new rules released Monday, tribes previously denied recognition will not be able to reapply and cannot use centuries-old state recognition to qualify for federal recognition, which brings the ability to operate casinos on tribal land.

The provision appears to rule out new applications by the The Golden Hill Paugussetts Indians, which have a Trumbull reservation, the Schaghticoke Indians, which have a reservation in Kent, and the Eastern Pequots. All three tribes are state recognized.

The tribes were previously denied federal recognition and unsuccessfully took their cases to federal courts. The Paugussetts proposed building a casino in Bridgeport and the Schaghticoke Indians considered both Bridgeport and the Danbury area.

“This would have given all of the tribes a second bite at the apple,” Blumenthal said, referring to earlier rule versions which allowed reapplications.

“The game would have been rigged for them,” Blumenthal said.

Chief Quiet Hawk of the Golden Hill Tribe of the Paugussett Indian Nation released a statement calling the new rule unfair.

“While the Golden Hill Paugussetts are disappointed by the BIA’s latest rules change, we are certainly not surprised,” the chief said. “Even as the BIA worked to bring more transparency to the process of federal recognition, the (Gov. Dannel P.) Malloy administration and our congressional delegation have been working behind closed doors in Washington to produce the current outcome. The new rules smell of heavy-handed political influence, violation of due process and violation of the rights of certain Native American tribes.

“The fact that the State of Connecticut was instrumental in getting federal recognition for two formerly state recognized tribes, who now contribute millions every year to the state coffers, makes one question the agenda of politicians who have worked so hard against the three other Connecticut state-recognized tribes. Certainly they were not looking at the rights of Native Americans or even the economic growth in Connecticut.”

State Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, lauded the change, and said the rules now eliminate long held fears of a casino in the Danbury area.

“Western Connecticut property owners can breathe a sigh of relief today,” McLachlan said.

“Imagine a casino in Danbury or Kent,” McLachlan said. “That could have been our reality. A disaster for our region has been averted, and we thank federal authorities for hearing our arguments and taking the appropriate action.”

In a statement, BIA said “After reviewing the comments both in support of and in opposition to allowing for any opportunity for re-petitioning, limiting re-petitioning by providing for third-party input, and other suggested approaches for re-petitioning, the department has determined that allowing re-petitioning is not appropriate.”

Chief Richard Velky, who presides over a faction of the Schaghticoke Indians, said he’s 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.”

“The Schaghitcoke Tribal Nation is confident that the Schaghticoke’s status as a sovereign tribal nation will be rightfully restored,” Velky said, adding the tribe “will not be deterred by the grave omissions and errors in the final regulations on Federal Acknowledgement of Indian Tribes.”

The new rules also change an earlier proposal to force tribes to prove ancestry back to only 1934 to qualify for federal recognition. Tribes will now have to show ancestry back to 1900.

“These changes ensure that previously denied tribal groups in Connecticut will not get another bite at the apple, and that any future petitioners will not be advantaged because the core criteria the federal government employs to recognize a tribe has not changed,” said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

“I would like to thank President Obama and Vice President Biden for heeding our concerns,” Malloy added.