Bush administration recognizes Pequot Tribe
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TUESDAY, JUNE 25, 2002

The Bush administration made history on Monday with a decision to recognize two Connecticut groups as one Indian tribe.

One day ahead of a self-imposed deadline, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb acknowledged the Eastern Pequot Tribe as an amalgamation of two tribes which independently sought federal status and the benefits that go along with it. The action marked the first time rival petitioners were recognized as one entity since the Bureau of Indian Affairs first tackled the issue in 1978.

But the decision made waves in other respects, said Aurene Martin, McCaleb's acting deputy, in an interview yesterday. The state of Connecticut's continuous recognition of the Eastern Pequot Tribe and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Tribe since the 1600s benefited the petitioners, especially when evidence they submitted was not as strong.

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

That reasoning raised the ire of Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who has argued that state status has no effect. "Our first impression is that this decision seems to defy fairness, law, and fact," he said.

Appeals through the Department of Interior and the courts are likely not just for the state but potentially the tribes. In the past, Paucatuck tribal officials rejected overtures from the larger Eastern tribe.

For now, the tribes were celebrating after being told the news during joint conference call late yesterday afternoon. Both groups waited more than 20 years to hear the BIA affirm their sovereignty and Indian ancestry.

"Today's decision will give us our first access to the federal programs we need to help our people, to preserve our culture and to pass on our values and traditions to our children," said Eastern Pequot chairwoman Marcia Jones Flowers at a press conference last night. "These are and always have been our goals."

Paucatuck chief James Cunha released a statement and said he was gratified with the result. His tribe shares the 224-acre Lantern Hill Reservation with the Eastern Pequot Tribe.

McCaleb's decision will become effective after 90 days of its publication in the Federal Register. Martin said the document would be sent this week.

Interested parties can appeal to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals for reconsideration. The panel has never reversed a recognition decision but has referred issues back to the BIA for review.

In addition to the state, three towns located next to the reservation were fighting the tribes. Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston submitted research to the BIA that sought to poke holes in tribal history.

Relevant Documents:
Press Conference: Eastern Pequot Tribe Statement (6/24) | McCaleb Issues Final Determination to Acknowledge the Historical Eastern Pequot Tribe (BIA 6/24)

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