Schaghticoke await BIA's final determination
KENT, Conn. -- The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation must wait until the BIA
issues its final acknowledgement decision on Oct. 12 before deciding
whether to seek additional depositions of opponents to the tribe's quest
for federal status.
In an order issued Sept. 30, U.S. District Court Judge Peter Dorsey denied
the Schaghticokes' motions for additional time and permission to question
individuals and organizations the tribe believes may have been involved
with Connecticut elected officials in violating a court order prohibiting
contact with federal decision-makers regarding the tribe's federal
Additionally, the judge denied the tribe's request to depose an amateur
genealogist who said she deliberately withheld information about
Schaghticoke genealogy from the tribe.
Schaghticoke Chief Richard Velky told tribal members of Dorsey's ruling at
the tribe's semi-annual meeting Oct. 2. Around half of the 300 members
attended the event on the tribe's 400-acre reservation on Schaghticoke
Mountain, where the colonial government set aside 2,500 acres for the
Indians in 1736.
"Judge Dorsey didn't allow us the discovery, but, you know, I don't think
it really interferes with us one way or the other. Our vision is one thing
-- federal recognition -- and everything else is secondary. We'll take the
judge's order and will forward it with the respect that we have given him
and he has shown us in the past. I see it as something I wish we had on our
side of the table, but we can still get by without it," Velky said.
Tribal members voted during the meeting to gather on the reservation,
rather than at the tribe's office in Derby, to hear the BIA decision.
During and after the meeting, tribal members and their guests participated
in a smudging ceremony and prayers for departed tribal members and the
tribe's future. The ceremony was led by Ed Sarabia, Tlingkit, head of the
Indian Affairs division of the state's Department of Environmental
Sarabia also led a ceremony to light a sacred fire that will be tended by
tribal volunteers day and night until the BIA decision is rendered.
In May, the Department of the Interior's Board of Indian Appeals,
responding to an appeal by state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal,
vacated the BIA's January 2004 decision to federally acknowledge the tribe
and sent it back to the Indian agency for reconsideration.
That decision is due Oct. 12, along with a reconsidered final determination
of another Connecticut tribe -- the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, which
received federal recognition in 2002.
Specifically, the judge denied the tribe's requests to depose members of
Town Action to Save Kent, an anti-sovereignty, anti-casino citizens group;
the Connecticut Light & Power Co., one of the defendants in the tribe's
land claims for 2,150 acres of undeveloped land adjacent to its 400-acre
reservation; and Francelia Johnson, a private citizen, president of the
Kent Historical Society and amateur genealogist who said she has withheld
from the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation birth certificates, obituaries and
other documents about tribal members that she has in her collection.
In rendering his order, Dorsey noted that the tribe's recognition decision
"is a matter for the BIA, the proceedings of which will not be dictated by
The judge also pointed out that issues surrounding the federal recognition
process have changed over the 20-plus years since litigation over the
tribe's reservation lands first appeared before his court -- a period that
"must seem to many as time immemorial," the judge quipped.
"The effort to be so recognized has intensified with the prospect of
converting tribal recognition into a gambling enterprise and in turn to an
investment opportunity to third parties and profit realization and income
production for tribe members. While those factors are apparent, they do not
disqualify the quest [for acknowledgement]," he said.
Schaghticoke attorneys said testimony and e-mails from recent depositions
of Connecticut elected officials indicate that efforts to overturn the BIA
decision were coordinated among elected officials, TASK, and its lobbyists
-- the powerful, White House-connected Barbour, Griffith & Rogers -- with
officials at the White House, Interior and the BIA.
Dorsey said the tribe's "claims of impropriety" should be raised in the
Administrative Procedures Act -- the appeal proceeding -- that is likely to
follow the BIA decision. Both the tribe and Blumenthal have vowed to appeal
a losing decision.
The decision to pursue the depositions rests largely on the outcome of the
BIA's reconsidered final determination, tribal lawyers said. If the Indian
agency upholds its decision to acknowledge the tribe, the depositions may
be moot, lawyers said. If the tribe is denied recognition, the issue of
political influence peddling on the part of the tribe's opponents may play
a big role in the tribe's appeal, the lawyers said.