Sunday, March 22, 2009

Schagticoke Appeals Ruling That Dismissed Tribe's Fed Recognition Case

By Ken Davison
Feather News

The Schagticoke Tribe, whose reservation is in Kent, Connecticut, filed an appeal two weeks ago seeking to overturn a court decision from last August that essentially killed their chances for federal recognition.

The U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs issued a final determination for the Schagticoke's federal recognition in January 2004 but that decision was reversed in 2005. The Tribe sought to overturn that reversal in federal court but it was struck down in August 2008. The Tribe is now appealing that federal court decision.

Both the Schagticoke and Eastern Pequot tribes recieved a preliminary decision for federal recognition in 2000. The BIA's final determination for Eastern Pequot federal recognition was issued in June 2002 but was reversed at the same time as that of the Schagticoke Tribe.

Perhaps the most intense lobbying campaign ever launched against the federal recognition of any tribe was launched against these two Connecticut tribes.

An orchestrated campaign against the federal recognition decisions of both tribes by local, state and federal elected officials and a powerful White house-connected lobbyist, Barbour Griffith & Rogers (BGR), resulted in the BIA reversing the final recognition decisions.

The Schagticokes claim the reversal was a result of political influence and was not reversed on the merits of their history.

The Schagticokes filed their appeal on March 6 in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York seeking to reverse the lower court's decision and to reinstate their federal recognition or to remand their case for federal recognition back to the U.S. Department of Interior for reconsideration. The Schagticokes would also accept the appointment of a special master to determine their federal recognition, according to the brief.

The BIA's reversal of both the Schagticoke and Eastern Pequot's federal recognition was the first time in the BIA's history that a final determination for federal recognition was reversed.

Their is no doubt that politicians and lobbyists applied pressure on reversing the Tribe's federal recognition. Whether the Interior Department succumbed to that pressure is at issue in the case.

Even actions of the judge that issued the decision in August against overturning the Interior Department's decision against the Schagticokes are being questioned. According to the brief, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Peter Dorsey responded to a letter from Ct. Governor M. Jodi Rell that was not filed with the court clerk's office and which was not sent to all of the parties involved in the lawsuit. Dorsey's letter allegedly said that the Tribe may not be able to claim violations of due process due to certain actions taken in his court proceedings.

Judge Dorsey acknowledged the intense lobbying efforts seeking to reverse the federal recognition decision "in the so-called backrooms of Washington" and that the targets of those lobbying efforts included the White House, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and "even this Court." It has been reported that then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton was threatened with being fired if the Tribe's recognition was not reversed. But Dorsey concluded that the lobbying efforts did not exert undue political influence on the process.

At issue in the Schagticoke's appeal is whether the tribe’s due process rights to a fair administrative hearing was violated by undue political influence and whether overturning their federal recognition was made by an unauthorized official at the Interior Department. The Department of the Interior’s Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason, who was not a Bush appointee, issued the decision to reverse the federal recognition decisions.

Many believe that the federal recognition reversals of both the Schagticoke and Eastern Pequot tribes were aimed at preventing the tribes from opening casinos in Connecticut.