Schaghticoke argue politics led to denial of recognition

New Haven, Connecticut (AP) 10-07

The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation has asked a federal judge to throw out the decision that denied it federal recognition, citing what it calls unprecedented political interference.

In a motion seeking summary judgment from U.S. District Court Judge Peter Dorsey, the tribe argues that powerful political forces opposed to a third Indian casino in Connecticut caused the U.S. Department of Interior to act in an “unprecedented and arbitrary manner” by reversing a decision to acknowledge the tribe. “Our motion shows unprecedented illegal influence by some of Connecticut’s highest elected officials and Bush White House insiders,” Schaghticoke Chief Richard Velky told the Connecticut Post.

The tribe, which has a reservation in Kent, appeared to win recognition in January 2004 from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. But State officials appealed, arguing that the tribe had substantial gaps in evidence related to its social continuity and political governance.

An agency appeal panel overturned the BIA’s decision and the Interior Department upheld the reversal in October 2005.

In January 2006, the Schaghticokes asked a federal court to overturn the Interior Department’s decision.

In its motion for summary judgment filed during September, the tribe details a March 30, 2004 meeting attended by three Republican members of the Connecticut Congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. and then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

In a deposition, Norton said that Wolf and the Connecticut delegation – which included U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, and former Reps. Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons – pressed her to overturn the decision.

She said Wolf threatened to ask President Bush to replace her.

The tribe also details other instances of what it argues were illegal political attempts to influence the process.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the tribe raises no new issues in its motion.

“They’ve attempted to invoke a smoke screen of speculation and guesswork. That kind of argument is insufficient to overturn the lawfully reached administrative decision that they failed to meet the criteria for recognition,” he said. “There is a heavy burden on anyone raising these arguments to show hard facts, not just guesses or charges.”

Blumenthal said that he plans to file a motion for summary judgment during November. Dorsey has not indicated when he will rule.

Information from: Connecticut Post,