Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Federal Government Denies Recognition For Brothertown Indians

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The Bureau of Indian Affairs issued a proposed finding that denies federal recognition to the Brothertown Indian Nation, a group that settled mostly in New York and later relocated to Wisconsin.

The proposed finding concluded that the Brothertown Indians did not meet five of the seven criteria required for federal recognition. The two criteria that the Tribe did meet are those that required the Tribe to provide a copy of its governing document and its membership criteria and a requirement that the membership be composed principally of persons who are not members of another federally recognized Indian tribe.

The conclusion reached by the feds was that the Brothertown Indians' federal recognition was revoked by an act of Congress in 1839. It may take an act of Congress to give them back their federal recognition.

Every Indian tribe is unique and that is true of the Brothertown Indians. The Tribe began when a group of Indians from other tribes - including Mohegans and Pequots - settled in upstate New York and western Massachusetts in the late 18th century. The federal government acknowledged the Brothertown Indians up until 1839, the proposed finding states.

Mohegan's Samson Occum figures prominently in the story of the Brothertown Indians.

According a timeline prepared by Mohegan Archivist Faith Davison, "In 1773, at a general meeting of Christian New England Indians held at Mohegan, a decision was reached to sen Joseph Johnson and Elijah Wampy along with representatives from the seven tribes to the Oneida Indians (in New York) to see if they would donate land for a settlement. It would offer these members an opportunity to maintain a semblance of traditional village life along with an autonomous Indian-supported Christian church."

Further, in 1774, "the Oneida promised a ten-miles tract initially to these brethren or Brothertown Indians, later increasin that to a larger section. They also officially adopted them into the Iroquois Convenant Chain. Occum paid for the land with money raised through donations, and had the forethought to register the agreement/deed in New York and Connecticut."

In 1789, "Occum moved permanently to Brothertown. In the interim he had traveled hundreds of miles back and forth between New York and Connecticut, preaching wherever he could find a congregation."

The proposed finding further states, "The evidence in the record indicates that a Senate proviso to a Treaty of 1831, a Treaty of 1832 and an Act of 1839 constitute 'unambiguous previous federal acknowledgment' of the Brothertown Indian tribe of Wisconsin. Therefore, in accordance with provisions of the regulations relating to previously acknowledged Indian tribes, the proposed finding evaluated the
Brothertown petitioner on the basis of whether or not it meets the seven mandatory criteria ... from last federal acknowledgment in 1839 until the present."

The five criteria the Brothertown Indians did not meet, according to the feds, are:

1) Criterion requiring that external observers have identified the petitioner as an American Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis since 1900. The petitioner must be identified since last federal acknowledgment, which for the Brothertown petitioner is 1839. The evidence in the record demonstrates that external observers identified a historical Brothertown group from 1839 until 1855. Between 1855 and 1981, outside observers periodically identified a Brothertown Indian entity, but because these periodic identifications are separated by long periods of time in which the petitioner or its members’ ancestors were not
identified as an Indian entity, the petitioner does not satisfy the standard of 'substantially continuous' identification as required by the regulations. The petitioning group has been identified as an American Indian entity since 1981.

2) Criterion requiring that a predominant portion of the petitioning group has comprised a distinct community since historical times. The petitioner must
demonstrate only that a predominant portion of the petitioning group comprises a distinct community 'at present,' which for this case is considered to be the period since the petitioner formally organized in 1980. For the period from 1980 to 2009, there is insufficient evidence that a predominant portion of the petitioning group’s members regularly associate with each other or that the petitioner’s members comprise a distinct community.

3) Criterion requiring that the petitioning group has maintained political influence over its members as an autonomous entity since historical times. The petitioner does not meet the requirements of this criterion because the evidence in the record does not demonstrate that authoritative, knowledgeable external observers identified
leaders or a governing body of the petitioning group on a substantially continuous basis since the date of last federal acknowledgment in 1839. The evidence in the record is insufficient to demonstrate that the petitioner or any group antecedent to it maintained political influence or authority over its members at any time
since 1839.

4) Criterion requiring that the petitioner’s members descend from a historical Indian tribe. The evidence in the record shows that only 51 percent of the petitioner’s 3,137 members have demonstrated descent from an individual known to be a member of the historical Brothertown Indian tribe of Wisconsin. The claims of descent from the historical Indian tribe for additional members of the petitioning group may be demonstrated for the final determination.

5) Criterion requiring that the petitioner not be subject to congressional legislation that has terminated or forbidden the federal relationship. Congress, in the Act of 1839, brought federal recognition of the relationship with the Brothertown Indian tribe of Wisconsin to an end. By expressly denying the Brothertown of Wisconsin any federal recognition of a right to act as a
tribal political entity, Congress has forbidden the Federal Government from acknowledging the Brothertown as a government and from having a government-to-government relationship with the Brothertown as an Indian tribe. Congress has both expressly ended and forbidden the federal relationship for this petitioner.