BIA recognition still hard to prove for some
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When former assistant secretary Kevin Gover in March 2000 decided to recognize two Pequot tribes, critics blasted the move as clearing the way for a new wave of tribes in Connecticut.

The insinuation was that Gover lowered the bar by turning to the state's three-hundred year relationship with the tribes to patch up holes in their historical record, a belief that was reaffirmed when the Bush administration last summer agreeed to recognize the historic Eastern Pequot Tribe.

But whether by design or fate, the precedent set by Gover, and upheld by his successor Neal McCaleb, hasn't helped other hopefuls. Two tribes whose ties to Connecticut date to the late 1600s have discovered that their historical standing doesn't mean much to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Richard Velky, chief of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, found that out last month when McCaleb issued a preliminary finding against his tribe, citing "little or no direct" support for key periods in the 1800s and 1900s. He was outraged by what he felt was a disregard for centuries of documented existence.

"We stand on our own but I don't see how state evidence couldn't factor into this decision," he said.

Yesterday, the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe, whose first reservation was created in 1659, felt the bite. In another preliminary decision, acting assistant secretary Aurene Martin said the tribe lacked three attributes of an Indian tribe and failed to show that it has existed as a distinct community for nearly 200 years.

Gover represented the Paugussett Tribe in private practice before joining the Clinton administration in 1997. He said he wasn't "surprised" by Martin's decision, given the fact that the BIA has since denied status to a slew of tribes since he left office two years ago.

"That seems to be the direction they were headed in," he said of the Bush officials.

But he pointed out a firm belief of his own regarding the inability of tribes to meet the criteria imposed on them by the BIA. The gaps in the evidentiary record are often tied to periods in time where government policy was aimed at exterminating or assimilating Indian people.

"The continuity is just so hard to prove, particularly in New England and in California," he argued. "It didn't pay to be an Indian in those days. You were trying not to be noticed."

Although several New England tribes have been on the BIA's waiting list for more than two decades, the agency has only recently dealt with the issues Gover raised. The Gay Head Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts was recognized in 1987 and the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut was recognized in 1994. Both overcame negative initial decisions.

Two Nipmuc tribes in Massachusetts, on the other hand, were denied recognition by McCaleb, a decision that is currently undergoing a standard review. Both had problems proving their case post-1900.

The Shinnecock Nation of New York and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts are nearing the final stages of the BIA's lengthy process. Both are recognized by their respective states.

As for California, dozens of hopefuls await their turn before the BIA but the agency has only gotten to one so far. The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe was denied recognition and is suing to correct what it says is a clerical error. BIA researchers said there was little evidence post-1900s to show the tribe existed as an Indian community.

Elsewhere in the country, the record is mixed. In Washington, the Chinook and Duwamish have been dealt setbacks recently while the Cowlitz and the Snoqualmie made it through the BIA's rough waters.

Today on Indianz.Com:
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