FROM THE ARCHIVE

Conn. critics challenge Eastern Pequot status

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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2002

Outspoken critics of the federal recognition process on Thursday announced their expected challenge to one of the Bush administration's most controversial decisions on the subject.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and leaders of two municipalities said they would fight the recognition of the historic Eastern Pequot Tribe. They cited "serious irregularities and improprieties" that tainted Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb's historic move.

"The federal recognition decision seems to defy fairness, law, and fact," said Blumenthal, repeating an earlier complaint.

Blumenthal, a Democrat, was joined in the appeal by Nicholas Mullane of North Stonington and Robert Congdon of Preston. The two towns are neighbors to the 224-acre Lantern Hill Reservation that has been home to the Eastern Pequot people since the 1600s.

But the town of Ledyard, a frequent companion in debates over Indian policy, was noticeably quiet. Town councilors, the day prior, said they didn't have enough information to give full support just yet.

There were other shifts in the state. Republican Gov. John G. Rowland, previously non-committal about the decision, said he supported the appeal in hopes of bringing "some well-needed clarity, consistency, and fairness" to the process.

The challenge delays the final status of the tribe, recognized as the amalgamation of two separate petitioning groups. After years of disputes, the Eastern Pequot Tribe and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Tribe are working together once again.

"This comes as no surprise," said Paucatuck Chief James Cunha Jr. "We have been preparing for this for years and know that we will prevail."

Eastern Pequot chairwoman Marcia Jones added: "We've assumed all along the attorney general and towns would file an appeal, because we know from their point of view the only decision they would accept is one that would deny recognition to any additional tribe in Connecticut."

McCaleb made waves in June by acknowledging the tribe under federal regulations. Although the Bureau of Indian Affairs admitted some holes in the record, he cited the state's continuous recognition of the Eastern Pequot Tribe.

"It is precedent setting because we have not a situation where we have had to determine that state recognition played into the existence of an historical tribe," BIA deputy Aurene Martin said at the time.

BIA spokesperson Nedra Darling declined to "speculate" on the outcome of the process. "We've made our decision and now it's going forward with the interested parties with the request for reconsideration," she said.

The dispute heads to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, an independent adjudication body. Its judges have never reversed a recognition decision but they have ordered the BIA to re-examine its evaluation of the evidence, criteria and procedure used.

Challenges in all aspects are planned by Blumenthal. In particular, he said McCaleb had no "legal authority" to treat the two Pequot petitioners as one tribe.

The tribes applied for recognition in 1978, and were among the first to do so when the BIA established regulations governing a previously adhoc process. The Clinton administration, under former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover, issued a preliminary ruling in favor of the tribes in March 2000.

He did so over the objections of lower-level staff who felt the evidence was lacking. But McCaleb cited additional documentation submitted that bolstered the case.

Nevertheless, Connecticut's lawmakers have asked the General Accounting Office to review the matter. Sens. Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman, Democrats, want to halt all pending recognition decisions until Secretary Gale Norton certifies that reforms are made.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which has had a longer interest in recognition than most of the critics, has scheduled a hearing next Tuesday. Blumenthal is expected to testify but McCaleb is scheduled to preside over a BIA economic development summit in Phoenix, Arizona.

Relevant Documents:
Blumenthal Announcement (9/12) | Rowland Statement (9/12) | McCaleb Issues Final Determination to Acknowledge the Historical Eastern Pequot Tribe (BIA 6/24)

Related Stories:
Pequot Tribe target of GAO review (8/30)
White House said Pequots would be denied (8/1)
Pequot evidence bolsters recognition (6/26)
McCaleb makes recognition history (6/25)
Gover vindicated on tribal stance (6/25)
BIA: Pequot Tribes Gain Recognition (6/24)