Federal appeals court rebuffs Schaghticoke tribe

By Stephanie Reitz
Hartford, Connecticut (AP) 11-09

An appeals court during October rejected the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation’s latest attempt at federal recognition, leaving a bid to the U.S. Supreme Court as the Connecticut group’s last recourse.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling last year by U.S. District Court Judge Peter Dorsey, who let stand a government decision to deny recognition to the tribe.

The ruling says the Schaghticokes failed to prove their allegations that Connecticut politicians used improper influence to derail the tribe’s efforts.

Federal recognition is important to tribes because it helps them qualify for federal assistance programs, exempts their reservations from state and local control and is the first step toward opening a potentially lucrative casino or gaming hall.

The Schaghticokes, who have a reservation in Kent, won recognition in January 2004 from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, but an agency appeal panel overturned the ruling in 2005.

The Interior Department later upheld the reversal, saying the tribe had substantial gaps in evidence it presented about its social continuity and political governance.

Several Connecticut politicians and Kent officials have strongly opposed recognition, fearing the tribe would try to open a casino in that rural northwestern corner of the state.

The Schaghticokes said in their lawsuit that the recognition process was tainted by “undue political influence” from lobbyists, advocacy groups and politicians, including Connecticut congressional delegation members, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and then-Gov. John G. Rowland.

The appeals court decision says that although the politicians “showed keen interest” in the tribe’s quest for recognition, the Interior Department officials who handled the case were not affected by the “political clamor.”

A message seeking comment was left for the tribe’s attorney.

A spokesman for the office of the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut said it would have no comment on the ruling.

Meanwhile, Blumenthal praised the decision, saying it was “finally putting this meritless petition out of its misery.”

“An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the only recourse left, would be futile and foolish, and we will fight it vigorously,” he said.