BIA staff swayed by new Pequot evidence
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Although a three-hundred year relationship with the state of Connecticut played an important factor, "significant" evidence uncovered by two Pequot tribes bolstered their bid for federal recognition, according to Bureau of Indian Affairs documents released yesterday.

The new information allowed the the Eastern Pequot Tribe and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Tribe to patch up some holes in the historical record, BIA researchers wrote. The evidence focused on the late 1800s and continued throughout the 1900s, according to decision documents signed by Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb on Monday.

The time period is crucial because BIA researchers initially found gaps in the evidentiary record which led them to recommend against federal recognition for the tribes, advice then-Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover in March 2000 ignored.

Those apprehensions appear to have disappeared, thanks largely to records, analyses and other information provided since Gover's controversial decision. According to BIA researchers, the evidence solidified the tribes' political activities, extensive social ties and continuous tribal existence.

But BIA officials this week repeatedly pointed to a "positive" relationship between McCaleb and the researchers that handle federal recognition. Although deputy Aurene Martin in an interview declined to state whether there was internal disagreement over the outcome, she said the precedent-setting decision was developed closely with the staff over several months.

"It really was a strong working, professional relationship," added BIA spokesperson Nedra Darling.

Indeed, it is hard to find dissent within the lengthy 198-page final determinations. The documents are largely the same for two Pequot factions although there are some minor differences.

The most controversial aspect of the decision then turns out to be the state's recognition of the historic Eastern Pequot Tribe since the late 1600s. McCaleb weighed this status when he came up against gaps that the new evidence did not fill.

"This relationship defined the Eastern Pequot tribe as a group with a distinct status not shared by any non-Indian groups in the state," McCaleb concluded, "and was based on their status as a group rather than being a racial classification of individuals."

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and three towns challenged this approach and argued that state recognition should carry no weight. But the BIA found convincing an extensive framework of state laws and principles -- including land and assets managed and held in trust -- that supported view originally advanced by Gover.

The final determinations the BIA provided to the tribes and all interested parties yesterday become legal within 90 days after a summary notice is published in the Federal Register. The state and the towns, however, are planning to challenge the decision, a move which could tie up the matter for years.

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