Connecticut Paper Looks Back on 20 Years of Indian Affairs
October 27, 2003
To mark the 20th anniversary of a controversial land claim and recognition act, The New London Day of Connecticut published several articles on Sunday tackling various Indian issues. All the usual suspects are there.
Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.), an opponent to all forms of gambling, says Indian gaming has failed because not all Indians are rich. “Our current system is unfair to both native and non-Native Americans,” he writes. “If America continues to rely on gambling for the future welfare of Native Americans, I fear most will continue to live in serious poverty. At the same time, the victims of the gambling industry will continue to mount.”
Ernie Stevens, president of the National Indian Gaming Association, cites the positive impacts of Indian gaming. “Tribes now have schools, health clinics, water systems and roads that exist only because of Indian gaming,” he writes. “They still have a long way to go, but Indian gaming offers hope.”
Jeff Benedict, author of a controversial book on the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, writes about the 1983 law that settled the tribe’s land claim in exchange for some land and federal recognition. “The Settlement Act’s recognition of the Pequots is akin to Arthur Anderson certifying Enron’s books,” he writes. “The proper forms may have been filled out in triplicate, with the appropriate boxes checked; but compliance with form can only mask fraud for so long.”
Michael Thomas, chairman of the tribe, offers a different view of the act. “Today, we can cite numbers that address the impact gaming has had on us and the region, but they don’t tell the whole story,” he writes. “It is harder to define the effect on the human spirit, the sense of accomplishment and pride we feel. The journey has been our unique way of pursuing the American Dream.”
Tom Turreen, the lawyer who handled the tribe’s claims and other claims, says the law righted a historical wrong. “The law is here to protect all citizens even when it turns out to benefit the poor and powerless,” he writes. “Nowhere has that principle been more aptly demonstrated than here.”
The leaders of three towns who have fought the tribe many times over the years say they have only run into problems since the act was passed. From traffic to crime to taxes to litigation, “Little did the residents of these three towns realize the impact this legislation would have on their lives in the coming years,” they write.
Landowner David Holdridge acknowledges the difficulties but says “it’s time to stop the self-pity and the casting of blame.” “If we are to influence the future, we must move on without grudges or bitterness,” he writes. “We cannot take control of our destiny until we accept those things that are irreversible.”
Finally, The Day takes in “The Wonder of it all” in an editorial. There are good and bad to the tribe’s recognition and to the casinos it brought, the paper says.
Goodbye Las Vegas Nights
The Hartford Courant – Editorial
January 13 2003
Attempting to apply the brakes to casino sprawl, Connecticut lawmakers last week repealed the “Las Vegas nights” statute – the state law that federal courts used as the hook to allow recognized Indian tribes to open gambling palaces. Repeal might not block future casinos, but it was well worth trying.
Connecticut is home to two of the world’s biggest and most profitable casinos – the Mashantucket Pequots’ Foxwoods and the Mohegan tribe’s Sun. State coffers receive $400 million annually from the casinos’ slot machine revenue. But enough is enough.
One additional tribe – the historical Eastern Pequots – has already been federally recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Golden Hill Paugussetts expect to hear soon whether they will receive preliminary recognition. Another tribe, the Schaghticoke Indians, likely will appeal a recent denial of their recognition petition, and the Nipmuc Nation is appealing its denial. All want to build casinos in Connecticut.
This small state is saturated with gambling. It suffers with already-congested highway and town road systems. More casinos would draw ever higher volumes of traffic, but they would not pay local taxes to help defray road maintenance, police services and other associated costs. Nor would they be subject to zoning laws on tribal land. Towns cannot afford to lose more of their tax base to tribal annexation.
Further, the majority of Connecticut residents do not want the state to become the Atlantic City of New England.
The courts directed Connecticut to negotiate a gambling compact with the Pequots and the Mohegans because federal law allows Indian tribes to operate any kind of gambling permitted under state law. Connecticut allowed charitable groups to raise money from casino-type games at events commonly called Las Vegas nights. The state law did not permit slot machines, but in 1993 the administration of Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. negotiated an agreement with the Pequots – and later the Mohegans – allowing the tribes to operate the profitable slot machines exclusively in exchange for the state taking a percentage of the revenue.
Repeal of the Las Vegas Nights law exempts Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun but bars nonprofit gambling fund-raisers and any other casinos. Experts for the tribes seeking recognition say Connecticut must shut down the two existing casinos, too, if it wants to stop gaming. Let the courts decide.
The Paugussetts’ supporters argue that repeal was racist because some tribal members have African American blood. There’s no evidence of racism on the part of those who oppose more gambling. Playing the race card is the worst kind of demagoguery.
Copyright 2003, Hartford Courant
Las Vegas Nights Are Gone Legislature Repeals Law; Rowland Expected To Concur
By Rick Green, Courant Staff Writer
January 7, 2003
Alarmed at the growing likelihood of more Indian casinos, state legislators repealed the state’s Las Vegas nights law Monday – despite claims their dramatic action will do little to block the spread of gambling in Connecticut.
The vote came at a special session after lengthy delay tactics by urban legislators who support Indian casinos, who talked for hours Monday afternoon and into the evening in a futile effort to derail the bill outlawing Las Vegas nights. Supporters of the repeal say it will allow the two existing Indian casinos to operate while outlawing future casinos operated by other tribes; opponents say Connecticut must prohibit all forms of gambling if it wants to stop casinos.
“If this is so meaningless, why all the rhetoric and all the effort to stop this repeal from happening?” said Jeff Benedict, president of the Connecticut Alliance Against Casino Expansion. “It isn’t meaningless.”
In the state House, legislators voted 83-59 to repeal the law, with most legislators from cities voting against. In the Senate, which convened in special session after hours of House debate, the tally was 25-10 to repeal. The vote came a dozen years after the legislature rejected an attempt to repeal the Las Vegas nights law, which could have blocked the opening of Foxwoods Resort Casino.
“I voted to repeal 12 years ago. It’s nice to have a change this time around,” said state Rep. Jefferson Davis, D-Pomfret. “Nobody can predict what the courts are going to say. It is the only step we have available to us now.”
But legal experts say the legislature’s action – and Gov. John G. Rowland’s promise to quickly sign the bill – means little unless Connecticut moves against Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun casinos. These casinos, among the largest and most profitable in the world, bring in about $400 million annually to the state treasury under a deal in which 25 percent of slot machine revenue is turned over to Connecticut. The bill repealing Las Vegas nights exempts Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, but prohibits casino-style gambling for everyone else, including Indian tribes and charitable groups, that have held fund-raisers allowed under the law.
“They can’t single out a tribe. That just doesn’t fly,” said Robert Anderson, law professor at the University of Washington and director of the school’s Native American Law Center. “If a state permits such gaming, then it’s open to the tribes,” said Anderson, counsel to the federal Interior Department under President Clinton.
The showdown over Las Vegas nights is the latest skirmish in an escalating battle over casino gambling. The state’s top political leaders are fighting the recent federal government ruling recognizing the historical Eastern Pequot tribe, which plans to open a casino in southeastern Connecticut. The Trumbull-based Golden Hill Paugussetts, who hope to open a casino in Bridgeport, expect to learn within days whether they will receive preliminary recognition. The Schaghticoke Indians were denied recognition in a similar ruling last month by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, but will likely appeal. A Massachusetts tribe interested in opening a casino in northeastern Connecticut, the Nipmuc Nation, is appealing the denial of its recognition petition.
While top politicians are lining up with citizen and business groups opposing casinos and these tribal recognition petitions, legislators from struggling cities say casinos may be their last option in a time of rising property taxes, unemployment and municipal budget shortfalls.
“It’s a chance at a new job and a ray of hope,” said state Sen. Bill Finch, D-Bridgeport.
The Golden Hill Paugussetts have been aggressively courting Bridgeport and political leaders from the state’s larger cities, arguing that a casino will benefit a struggling city. The tribe, supported by shopping mall developer Thomas Wilmot of Rochester, N.Y., says its opponents are racially motivated. Most members of the Paugussetts are African Americans who trace their ancestry to the historic Connecticut tribe.
“We are not playing the race card. We are saying this is what it appears to be,” said James Griffin, president of the Connecticut State Conference of NAACP Branches. “The fact that [the Paugussetts] are black plays heavily into this whole issue.”
Paugussett adviser Edward Bergin, the former mayor of Waterbury who lobbied legislators during the long afternoon and evening, dismissed the legislature’s vote.
“This is just stupid. It is not going to have an effect on the tribes. It is not going to stop future casinos. It is going to affect nonprofits,” Bergin said, referring to charitable groups that have used Las Vegas nights to raise money.
Opponents, led by state Reps. Reginald Beamon, D-Waterbury, and Kenneth Green, D-Hartford, also blasted their colleagues for changing the rules just as Connecticut tribes are winning recognition – and the right to negotiate to open casinos here.
“Are we changing the rules tonight? Absolutely. We are changing the rules every day,” responded state Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich. “If we didn’t change the rules, we’d have Prohibition still in effect. We’d have segregation still in effect.”
Towns Question Law Establishing Reservation
January 2, 2002
LEDYARD — Town officials in Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston are calling for a federal General Accounting Office investigation of the 1983 congressional act that established the Mashantucket Pequot reservation, home of Foxwoods Resort Casino.
Leaders of the three towns have asked U.S. Rep. Robert R. Simmons, R-2nd District, to ask the GAO to look into the land claims settlement act, the Journal Inquirer of Manchester reported Tuesday.
Local officials have sought clarification of the legislation since author Jeff Benedict’s controversial book, “Without Reservation,” was released in 2000. The book questions the authenticity of the tribe and the amount of land that was granted under the act.
“I strongly believe that this situation, which was created by the Congress of the United States in 1983 with the passage of the Mashantucket Pequot Settlement Act, should be corrected by Congress,” Ledyard Mayor Wesley J. Johnson Sr. said in a letter to Simmons.
Johnson also has asked Simmons to submit legislation on behalf of the three towns to clarify the intent of the settlement act regarding land annexation and reservation boundaries.
Simmons could not be reached for comment.
Simmons has worked with the three towns and the tribe over the past year in an effort to settle a dispute over the settlement act.
In a letter to Simmons, Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon said Congress should be addressing the issues of annexation, tribal recognition and the settlement act, not local and tribal leaders.
“We have attempted to address these issues locally, not because we wanted to, but rather because our congressional leaders have consistently told us that they cannot or will not address these issues,” Congdon wrote.
Benedict, one of six Democrats challenging Simmons for the 2nd District seat next fall, claims the Mashantucket Pequot tribe should be “decertified” because Congress was deceived when it passed the 1983 Mashantucket Pequot Land Claims Settlement Act.
Benedict alleges that tribe members are not descendants of the historic Pequots and have only a questionable blood link to the Narragansetts in Rhode Island.
The legislation allowed the tribe to gain federally recognition which grants tribes “sovereign” status and exempts their land from local zoning and taxation — and to avoid a lengthy review by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Mashantucket Pequots opened Foxwoods, the world’s largest casino, off Route 2 near Ledyard in 1992. The casino now contributes $1.2 billion to the state’s economy each year.
Benedict says the tribe could be “reduced” from a sovereign nation to a corporation if Congress reverses the settlement act.
Benedict also claims the settlement act delineated about 800 acres to the tribe, although its reservation covers about 1,200 acres.Tribal officials claim that the settlement act called for an area between 1,884 and 2,234 acres.
Since the settlement act, the tribe has purchased more land and petitioned the government to add 165 acres to its reservation.
Senate To Vote On Tribal Ban Review Process May Be Put On Hold
By Rick Green, Courant Staff Writer
September 18, 2002
WASHINGTON — The federal process that may bring more Indian casinos to Connecticut often follows a shadowy, confusing path and is frequently plagued by inconsistency, investigators told a Senate committee Tuesday.
But after years of complaints, the matter is headed for a showdown today, when the Senate votes on banning, at least temporarily, the federal recognition of Indian tribes.
Now, with heavyweights like U.S. Sens. Christopher J. Dodd and Joseph I. Lieberman, both D-Conn., and Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, involved, reforming how the government goes about formally recognizing a tribe may be on the way.
Tuesday morning, Connecticut’s complicated debate over federal recognition of Indian tribes and the growth of casinos took center stage at a crowded hearing before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
“The basis for the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ tribal recognition decisions is not always clear,” said Barry Hill of the General Accounting Office, Congress’ investigative arm. “There is a lot of inconsistency. There is a lot of confusion.” Last year the GAO prepared a report critical of tribal recognition, noting, for example, that even a 70-year gap where there was no evidence of one tribe’s existence wasn’t enough to deny federal recognition.
The issue of federal recognition is hotly contested because in a number of states, notably Connecticut and California, federally recognized tribes may open a gambling casino. To tribal groups, many of which began seeking recognition long before casinos, the issue also is intensely personal.
In Connecticut, where the historical Eastern Pequots won final approval from the BIA this past June and two other tribes, the Schaghticokes and the Golden Hill Paugussetts, await a preliminary ruling this year, Indians and casinos have become a heated political topic.
Outcry over the BIA’s decision to recognize the historical Eastern Pequots has united the governor, attorney general and nearly all of the state’s congressional delegation. Dodd’s and Lieberman’s proposed ban – opposed by Inouye – also would block the final recognition of the historical Eastern Pequots, at least temporarily.
“We have an obligation to the people of the United States and Native Americans to ensure that the BIA gets its facts right,” Dodd told the committee. Dodd and Lieberman have put their considerable influence behind their proposal to halt new tribal recognitions until the process can be reformed and clearer guidelines established – a potentially divisive issue because Democrats and Republicans alike are strong supporters of tribal rights.
“There is a danger that groups that should be recognized won’t be and other groups that shouldn’t, will be,” said Dodd.
Eastern Pequot tribal Chairwoman Marcia Jones Flowers and others told the committee that the fight is more about people who can’t accept the idea of another Connecticut Indian tribe winning sovereignty. “The decision is under attack. … It’s being made an excuse for why reform of the BIA process is required,” Flowers said.
When North Stonington First Selectman Nicholas Mullane told the committee that Foxwoods Resort Casino has brought little more than congestion, prostitution and drunken drivers to his small town, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., was quick to jump in.
“The Indians didn’t cause those things. Somebody else did. With a lot of these problems, Indians didn’t have a damned thing to do with it,” said Campbell, who is Indian. “There’s a lot of positive impact from having those large casinos. They provide a lot of jobs for non-Indians.”
Inouye, who presided over Tuesday’s hearing, said that opponents of recognition for a tribe have many chances to present their case in the much-criticized BIA process. He noted that the decision recognizing the Eastern Pequots, which took the federal government more than two decades to reach, still can be appealed.
“I cannot see where this has been forced down the throats of people of Connecticut. It is a matter that has been pending for 24 years,” Inouye said. “One cannot suggest that this was done in the still of the night.”
Inouye said Indians face an incredible burden of documenting their survival to a government whose official policy was to eliminate them.
“How can you maintain a written record of existence when you have been tossed around like this, … [with] your teepees burned, your leaders massacred?” Inouye said.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who recently was joined in his fight against casinos and tribal recognition by Gov. John G. Rowland, countered that the existing system is “lawless” and the BIA has made no significant effort at reform.
Last week, Blumenthal said he planned to appeal the BIA’s decision to recognize the Eastern Pequots, a move that led to Rowland’s declaration that he opposes further casino development.
Blumenthal also charged that the recognition of the Eastern Pequots was tainted by “profound and serious irregularities,” namely that they did not meet the BIA’s own criteria for recognizing a tribe.
Both sides seem to agree that money and the specter of gambling riches have distorted the entire process. Hundreds of tribes have lined up seeking federal recognition since 1988, when Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which permits gambling on reservations.
“Money is driving some of the dialogue we are getting into now. It has really made the problem worse,” said Campbell, a supporter of Indian gaming.
“There are a lot of people who are Indian who want to revise the process,” he said. The question is “how we do it so legitimate people are not left out.”
Simmons Asks GAO to Investigate Federal Recognition of Eastern Pequot
by The Associated Press
September 3, 2002
Norwich, Conn. (AP) _ All but one of Connecticut’s congressmen sent a letter to the federal General Accounting Office Thursday, asking for an investigation of the recent federal recognition of the Eastern Pequot tribe.
The lawmakers say the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs’ decision to recognize the North Stonington tribe in June was flawed. They say the BIA relied heavily on the state’s decision to set aside land for the tribe and provide services to the people who lived there, “regardless of their Indian ancestry.”
Eastern Pequot Chairwoman Marcia Jones Flowers immediately criticized the congressmen, saying the request for an investigation was a “blatant attempt to politicize the recognition process.”
“This is just another attempt to delay our tribe’s recognition,” Flowers told the Norwich Bulletin and The Day of New London. “If the decision had been negative, would they be pursuing this investigation with the same fervor?”
The letter was signed by Reps. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District; Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District; James Maloney, D-5th District; Nancy Johnson, R-6th District; and Christopher Shays, R-4th District; and Sens. Christopher Dodd and Joseph Lieberman. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District did not take part in the request.
The letter was sent to GAO Comptroller General David M. Walker. The GAO, which is Congress’ investigative arm, has the power to subpoena information and witnesses and to make policy recommendations to lawmakers.
Simmons questioned the BIA’s decision because it recognized two tribes as one _ the Eastern Pequots and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots _ even though they submitted separate petitions.
Simmons said he would also request that the GAO investigate whether the BIA has the authority to recognize Indian tribes and to determine whether the BIA provided proper notice to the public that it intended to take such action.
“These are critical questions and, depending upon the answers, they could bring about legislative reforms,” Simmons said. “That the BIA recognition process is broken is further evidenced by the fact that the Wiquapaug Eastern Pequots are preparing to appeal the decision.”
The Wiquapaugs, based in Hope Valley, R.I., claim to be a third faction of the recently recognized tribe, Simmons said, and are waiting for decision on their own recognition petition.
“It seems that nobody can understand what the BIA is doing, and it’s time we found out,” Simmons said.
The congressmen also want the GAO to look into whether politics influenced the BIA’s approval of the Eastern Pequots’ request for recognition.
Jones Flowers said she believed the BIA decision would withstand scrutiny.
State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and town officials from Ledyard, Preston and North Stonington are considering an appeal of the BIA decision.
Blumenthal said Thursday that he was closer to making a decision on whether he would appeal the decision.
“I certainly welcome the congressional delegation’s support for an investigation, which I have urged for some time,” said Blumenthal. “The system is broken and it needs to be fixed. An investigation is overdue but we need action.”
Tribe Could Do Better On Genealogy
By Bethe Dufresne
August 23, 2002
Whatever your opinion is of Jeff Benedict, the author of the book that challenged the authenticity of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, he or someone like him was inevitable.
The fact that the richest tribe in America and the world’s largest single casino sprang from a barely inhabited reservation, at the time practically unknown to its immediate neighbors, makes for an incredible story in every sense of the term.
Questions came up about the tribe’s genealogy and continuity as soon as it began to significantly alter the centuries-old local landscape. But “The Wonder of It All” overshadowed everything — and I’m not just talking about Foxwoods. The fabulous resurgence of the Pequots, close to annihilated centuries ago, was a kind of miracle.
Then came Benedict, a local boy right out of law school, a clean-living Mormon who quoted the battlefield quips of George Washington and said what a lot of people were thinking — that this tribe wasn’t really a tribe, at least not the kind usually recognized by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, a process the Mashantuckets had circumvented.
He was egged on by local residents fed up with casino traffic and offended that a reconstructed tribe, many of whose members were newcomers to the region, was lecturing families ensconced here for decades or even centuries about sovereign Indian rights. Very quickly, Benedict started sounding more like he was on a campaign trail than a book-signing tour.
The rest, of course, is history-still-in-the-making. People took sides, movie rights were sold, Mashantucket chairman Kenny Reels called up Johnnie Cochran and Benedict ran a losing campaign for Congress.
This week, Reels, who was raised a Narragansett but has Pequot connections, produced a family genealogy to prove Benedict wrong, at least about him. Cynics will claim that a rich man got the documentation he paid for, but it seems a credible piece of the puzzle and is a lot better than Reels holding up family papers on local cable access television.
When “Without Reservation” appeared a few years ago, blurbs from the publisher said Benedict’s book would show that the Pequots weren’t really Pequots. The author clarified this early on, albeit probably not strongly enough. His point, he said, was that the tribe hadn’t produced definitive proof of 17th century Pequot ancestry or a continuous tribal community.
There’s a difference.
Given the known history of the Pequots, who were killed off, enslaved, intermarried and intermingled, poorly accounted for, etc., etc., etc., it’s doubtful that anyone could prove or disprove beyond doubt the authenticity of the modern Western (Mashantucket) and Eastern Pequot tribes.
With some tribes, it’s a matter of fact. With these and all the other Connecticut tribes — and I include the Mohegans — it’s a matter of viewpoint.
Reels is right that Benedict, an amateur genealogist, never proved that he isn’t a Pequot. But if the tribe is serious about putting Benedict’s campaign to rest, it should do more than put the Reels family tree on file at its $200 million Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, touted, justifiably in most cases, as a model of historic research.
The tribe hired the best in the business to re-create an authentic 17th century Pequot village with amazingly lifelike figures. Surely it can afford to mount an accessible, detailed and decipherable exhibit that would show what was happening in each succeeding decade on the reservation and who was living there, profiling key figures and how they fit into the long-term picture.
Some of this information is on display, but it’s pretty sketchy given the detail lavished on other aspects of the museum. Gamblers who wander over on a lark, whose recreational losses funded this miracle, probably don’t care where the modern tribe came from.
But the neighbors do, and for pride or practicality their opinion does matter to the Pequots.
June 24, 2002
Indian casinos are among the sweetest deals in American politics. Casino interests throw millions of dollars at Democrats and Republicans alike, and in return they get monopoly rights to build tax-free gambling palaces. Now comes a neophyte pol hoping to break up this blackjack game.
His name is Jeff Benedict, a 36-year-old author staging a maverick run for the Democratic Party’s nomination in Connecticut’s Second Congressional District. Home to both the billion-dollar Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos, the district can fairly be called the birthplace of today’s nationwide casino boom. But Mr. Benedict is warning on the campaign trail that Connecticut is becoming “Las Vegas East,” with everything that brings along with it. If he succeeds, he might even start a much-needed public debate about the wisdom of state-promoted gambling.
Mr. Benedict’s quest began two years ago with the publication of “Without Reservation,” his book about the Mashantucket Pequot tribe’s creation of Foxwoods. He created a statewide stir by charging that the Pequots weren’t a legitimate tribe and that they gained federal recognition through political shenanigans. The Pequots denounced the book as “pure ignorance.” Mr. Benedict is now stumping to decertify the Pequots as an Indian tribe, which would subject Foxwoods to state taxes and regulation.
One of Mr. Benedict’s themes is reforming the federal process that grants Indian groups tribal status, and with it the right to build casinos. In particular he wants to separate casino development rights from tribal recognition. We’d add that reform of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Interior Department, which control recognition, is long overdue. More than 200 Indian groups are now petitioning the BIA for tribal status, no fewer than 12 in Connecticut alone. With a decision in four of these cases imminent, 23 municipal leaders wrote the Interior Department last month asking for a freeze. Recognition, they wrote, will be “highly detrimental for our local governments and communities.”
The BIA itself has become a mecca for political manipulation, or worse. In May, the Interior Department fired the number two man at the BIA, Wayne Smith, after allegations of influence peddling among casino tribes surfaced in the media. Mr. Smith says he was fired for protesting undue White House pressure in tribal recognition. Earlier this year, an Interior Department report detailed egregious conduct by two Clinton-era BIA heads, Kevin Gover and Michael Anderson, in tribal recognition cases. Both men have denied improper conduct.
Mr. Benedict remains a long shot, but his campaign has at least forced his opponents to confront the issue. The incumbent, GOP Representative Rob Simmons, has noted that the casinos have created many jobs and contribute some $300 million to the state budget. But he also now warns that Connecticut is in danger of becoming a “casino state” and has called for reform of the BIA and more community influence over tribal recognition.
But to face Mr. Simmons, Mr. Benedict must first win among Democrats. Mr. Benedict needs 15% of the delegates at the party’s July convention to force a primary against former state representative Joe Courtney, the choice of the Democratic establishment. Mr. Courtney has bowed in Mr. Benedict’s direction on casinos, calling for reform of the BIA, but it’s clear he mostly favors the status quo. He is clearly ahead, but in a sign of concern over the Benedict challenge, Democrats recently parachuted Senator Chris Dodd into Norwich to help Mr. Courtney win the town’s convention votes.
This is a race worth watching. For Washington pols and K Street lobbyists, Indian casinos are the geese that keep laying golden eggs. Should Mr. Benedict win, or even come close, he’d send a wake-up call to the Beltway’s far too cozy pro-gambling consensus.
Conn. Towns Struggle Under Casino’s Shadow
By Robert M. Cook
March 17, 2002
If Southern Maine and Seacoast New Hampshire residents want to know firsthand what life would be like with a casino, all they have to do is travel to Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Conn.
There they would hear two conflicting stories.
One reflects “the wonder of it all” trumpeted by Foxwoods’ television commercials and involves the prosperity of the casino’s 12,000 jobs and the million of dollars it pumps into Connecticut’s economy. The flip side sounds more like the blunder of it all for the towns that surround Foxwoods.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation that owns and operates the casino, and town officials in Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston would agree on one thing: Foxwoods’ success far exceeded expectations.
For the Pequots, and the Mohegan Tribal Nation next door that owns and operates Mohegan Sun casino resort, gaming has translated into salvation and prosperity. But many people in the towns that surround them say their quality of life has gone downhill.
Now the casinos and the surrounding towns are trying to maintain a fragile balance that will enable the casinos to grow and generate more money for Connecticut, without draining the resources of the neighboring communities.
Nicholas H. Mullane, who serves as North Stonington’s 1st selectman, has lived in the area for 20 years and remembers what it was like before Foxwoods came along.
He said that when the tribe introduced bingo to the reservation in 1988, there wasn’t too much of a change. But after the resort opened in 1992, nothing was ever the same.
No one thought Foxwoods would evolve into the world’s largest gambling casino with more than more than 320,000 square feet of gaming space in a complex totaling 4.7 million square feet. Today it has 350 table games and nearly 8,000 slot machines spread throughout five separate and distinctive casinos.
The resort has 25 food and beverage outlets that offer everything from gourmet dining to fast food. The resort has more than 1,416 rooms in three hotels: The Grand Pequot Tower Hotel, Great Cedar Hotel and Two Trees Inn. It features world-class entertainment with a 1,400-seat theater and a 4,000-seat arena.
Shortly before he passed away, Frank Sinatra performed a concert there. Some 19 retail stores line the casino concourse.
Mullane said it attracts 50,000 to 60,000 people a day, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, which is a strain on local police departments who have to manage traffic flow and cover accidents, and on fire departments who provide mutual fire aid to the resort.
Because a federal law passed by Congress in 1986 allowed Indian tribes to develop gaming on their reservations, Mullane said there was nothing the towns could do to stop it. He believes the end result has been a disaster.
“They stuck a city in the middle of our communities without regulations,” Mullane said. “It’s Fenway Park, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”
Although 60,000 people a day travel to the casino, Mullane said very few of them venture out and spend money in the surrounding communities. The only businesses that have done well outside Foxwoods are gas stations and doughnut shops.
As the resort expanded, the towns that have average populations of about 5,000 have seen burglaries, auto theft, embezzlement, prostitution, driving while intoxicated and a host of other crimes nearly double, Mullane said. The same is true of divorces and personal bankruptcies.
The Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling recently released a report that showed compulsive gambling is on the rise in the southeastern part of the state.
Last year, the Ledyard, Conn., tax collector was sentenced to 120 days in jail for stealing more than $300,000 from the town to gamble at the casinos, Mullane said.
Quiet country lanes and main roadways like Route 2 that lead to Foxwoods are littered with trash, abandoned cars and more than one abandoned, boarded up restaurant squeezed out of existence by its behemoth neighbor, Mullane said.
He said the town has already closed two houses of prostitution and North Stonington now has a super pornographic store and a smoke shop and he doesn’t see an end in sight.
Homes located along the road to the casino have lost 10 to 20 percent of their valuation and it costs the town about $600,000 a year to pay for the casino-related municipal services it provides, Mullane said.
The tribe pays the State of Connecticut 25 percent of its slot machine revenue every year. That totaled nearly $196 million last year. But Mullane said the towns surrounding Foxwoods receive very little of that money to help defray casino-related costs.
Connecticut’s larger cities like the state capital in Hartford, Bridgeport and New London tend to get the lion’s share. Last year, North Stonington received a little more than $326,000, which Mullane describes as a “mere pittance.”
In Preston, Conn., 1st Selectman Robert Congdon said his community is located between Foxwoods to the east and Mohegan Sun to the west. He said as many as 25,000 to 30,000 cars will travel on the main road through town, which causes severe traffic congestion at times.
Like North Stonington, Preston has been forced to spend $750,000 on municipal services to support the casino’s operations and does not receive enough money back from the state to cover its costs.
Congdon said many people in town thought the casino would spur new growth and the entire area would be a hotbed for economic activity.
“The only development we’ve had in our town since the casinos opened is a Dunkin’ Donuts,” Congdon said. “I would be willing to bet that we spend more money picking up all those cups and litter along the side of the road than we get from them in taxes.”
Some residents have given up on the area entirely and moved away. Their houses are being bought by families whose parents work at the casinos, Congdon said. Some local school districts have been forced to deal with increased enrollment of students who don’t know how to speak English and require special instruction.
“It’s an industry that doesn’t produce anything. It’s an industry that just takes money out of people’s hands,” he said.
At times the Ledyard Police Department feels overwhelmed by the casinos.
“It’s just been hectic. It’s like being at top speed 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. There’s no down time any more,” said Ledyard Police Executive Officer David Guiher.
He said crimes like house break-ins and gas station robberies are way up from what they used to be.
Before the casinos came along, the 23-year police veteran said, “It was kind of like Mayberry back then. It was quiet and a lot of us wanted to see more action.”
While Foxwoods may have created some problems, organized crime isn’t one of them.
According to Connecticut State Police Lt. John Herman, there has not been an increase in homicides or armed robberies in and around the casino.
Like Guiher, he cites traffic and related accidents as the major police headache.
Between the Tribal Gaming Commission, Tribal Police, and uniformed and plainclothes State Police officers, Herman said the casinos are well policed and crime is minimal.
As Foxwood’s work force has grown and its reach to recruit them extends all over the world, many school districts have experienced new challenges.
Pam Aubin, who serves as curriculum director for the Norwich, Conn., school district, said the community is one of the few that still has affordable housing for casino workers. Because of an influx of new residents, student enrollment rose 25 percent in one semester last year. The district went from dealing with 19 foreign languages to 27 languages.
The district’s adult education program has also expanded to accommodate the growing number of adults who need to learn English as a second language, she said.
One of Connecticut’s most well-known and picturesque tourist destinations, Mystic Seaport, has yet to realize the full benefit of all the casino traffic heading to and from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
Suzanne Rummel-Lane recalls how she and others struggled to survive Foxwoods’ first few years. Until the resort built its hotels, casino visitors occupied most of the available hotel rooms near Mystic, she said.
As the owner of the Grey Goose Cookery and Elizabeth & Harriet American Crafts store, Rummel-Lane rarely sees casino guests buy her wares.
“The people that go to casinos just go to the casinos because they have everything they need right there,” she explained.
Most of the business she has seen related to the casinos is from the workers who live in the area. They are the ones who will buy housewares and kitchen crockery. After casino guests are through playing the slot machines, they might come in and browse, but rarely buy anything.
“The ones who have come have lost all their money at the casino and aren’t buying anything. They just come and complain about their losses,” Rummel-Lane said.
Unlike other tourism areas that make it a point to encourage visitors to frequent all of their destinations and attractions, Rummel-Lane said Foxwoods hasn’t.
“They’re really not caring that much about us here,” she said.
Despite the apparent pitfalls associated with a large-scale casino, Foxwoods officials say no one can ignore the huge fiscal benefits it has brought to an area that was reeling from the last recession.
Bruce MacDonald, manager of media relations for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, said since the casino opened it has given the State of Connecticut more than $1.4 billion in winnings. The tribe has no control over how the state chooses to distribute that money.
In addition to providing 12,000 jobs that pay average salaries of $25,000 with good benefits, MacDonald said Foxwoods spent about $54.6 million last year alone on food, goods and services from Connecticut businesses.
Everything at the resort from his office furniture and computer to each hotel room’s furnishings were purchased from Connecticut businesses, he stressed.
When Foxwoods first opened in 1993, the region had just lost 10,000 jobs when defense contractor Electric Boat had to make cutbacks, MacDonald said.
“It’s an amazing story,” MacDonald said. He recalled that when the casino opened in February 1992 they had two shifts, but almost immediately expanded to three shifts because the people just kept coming and coming.
In addition to the nearly $196 million of slot revenues paid to the State of Connecticut, Foxwoods also paid $389.9 million in taxes and fees to the federal government and to Connecticut and Rhode Island, he said.
Through it all, “The tribe has tried very hard to be a good neighbor,” MacDonald said.
The tribe has donated millions of dollars to many charities including $5 million to the Mystic Seaport Aquarium and more than $560,000 to the United Way, he said.
MacDonald and Connecticut town officials said Kittery, Maine, residents should consider all of the facts before making a decision.
“I would hope people would look at it with an open mind and consider the potential, not just for job creation, but also for world-class entertainment,” MacDonald said. “Maybe they should come down to Foxwoods and see what it’s like.”
Mullane and Congdon say that if the project is approved and people know they are going to have to live with it, they should negotiate the best deal they can to cover their costs.
“Can you contain it?” is the most important question Mullane said communities should ask themselves.
Congdon wishes his town and others could have been at the bargaining table with Foxwoods and the State of Connecticut in 1992 so they could have had a say in the matter.
“If there is a message here it would be to be at the table with the state and make sure the local impacts are addressed,” he said. “It’s much easier to deal with these things up front than after the fact.”
Robert Cook can be reached by calling 742-4455, ext. 5396, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tribe Seeking to Limit Blumenthal’s Powers Eastern Pequot Leader Says Relations with Tribe Could be Undermined
By Susan Haigh
March 2, 2002
Hartford –– A leader of the Eastern Pequots warned lawmakers Friday that the state would undermine its relations with the tribe if it granted the attorney general more money to challenge tribal recognition petitions.
Mark Sebastian, vice chairman of the North Stonington tribe, said he opposes two bills that would boost funding for Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s office. Sebastian said the money would be spent fighting tribal petitions for federal acknowledgement, which he claims is outside Blumenthal’s legal purview.
“The attorney general should not be directly allowed to expand the power of his office,” Sebastian told members of the legislature’s Environment Committee.
Support is growing
A growing number of lawmakers want Blumenthal to have the resources to help the state and municipalities deal with Indian legal issues, such as recognition petitions, land claims and sovereignty issues. But the matter has become controversial, with tribes such as the Eastern Pequots arguing that Blumenthal would use the money to unlawfully oppose federal recognition bids.
Ultimately, the money would have to be woven into the final budget agreement.
By providing the extra funding, Sebastian said the state would undermine a 320-year-old relationship with the Eastern Pequots, recognized by state statute. The state and governor are obligated by law to assist Connecticut tribes in applying for federal housing benefits and other aid, he said.
Blumenthal claims he is within his legal rights to get involved in tribal recognition matters and maintains that he needs the additional funding to review the tens of thousands of pages of documents submitted by petitioning groups to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. Currently, four tribes, including the Eastern Pequots, have petitions under consideration by the BIA.
Two of the tribes, the Golden Hill Paugussetts and the Schaghticokes, have federal land claim lawsuits pending in federal court.
A number of other groups intend to file petitions with the BIA.
He made his pitch
Earlier this year, Blumenthal requested funding for six additional staff positions, including two attorneys, two paralegals and two secretaries, as well as funds to hire experts. Those positions, however, were not included in Gov. John G. Rowland’s budget proposal.
Dean Pagani, the governor’s spokesman, has said that Blumenthal should find the needed resources elsewhere within his budget, prompting legislators, including Sen. Catherine W. Cook, R-Mystic, to once again pursue legislation.
Cook said she doesn’t care if the resources are added to the attorney general’s office or to another agency, such as the state Department of Environmental Protection.
She said small towns such as North Stonington need financial assistance from the state to hire the experts to pore over tribal petitions and determine whether the recognition process is fair.
“I think the issue is you can’t leave these tiny little towns with a huge financial burden,” she said.
“A town of 4,000 is the David going up against the Goliath of the federal government.”
Bill Would Restrict Indian Land Claims
By Rick Green, Courant Staff Writer
February 15 2002
Indian tribes would be blocked from making land claims on private property under proposed legislation that faces a public hearing today at 10:30 a.m. at the Legislative Office Building.
The proposed bill comes as communities across Connecticut are growing increasingly anxious over the modern role that ancient tribes play in the state. Four tribes are awaiting a decision on federal recognition that could allow them to open gambling casinos; two already have made substantial land claims against private property owners.
The new legislation, introduced by state Rep. Jefferson B. Davis, D-Pomfret, is aimed at curtailing efforts by tribal groups that have tied up thousands of acres in the southern and western parts of the state.
“Indians had a right to the use of land but no ownership of land. And therefore they have no basis for claims against the owners of any land in Connecticut,” Davis said. “We are looking to clarify that Indians [legally] owned no property in the state of Connecticut.”
Indian leaders said the legislation would have little effect because land claims often are filed under federal, not state, laws.
“It’s very racist,” said Chief Quiet Hawk, leader of a band of Golden Hill Paugussetts that has unsuccessfully filed land claims in Fairfield and New Haven counties. “What they are about to do is unconstitutional.”
Matthew Den Ouden, a lawyer for the Paugussetts, called the bill “an ineffective attack” because federal law provides sweeping rights for Indian tribes. “It has the appearance of doing something, but it doesn’t really do anything at all. This would have no effect on [federal] land claims.”
The legislation, based on research by ethnohistorical researcher James Lynch of Waterbury, cites 17th-century Colonial land grants under King Charles II that gave Indians “occupancy rights” but not legal title.
It is certain to be controversial in Connecticut, home to Indians who trace their history to long before Europeans arrived to claim land in the name of the English throne.
“We are only looking to deal with [Indian tribes’] ability to cloud the ownership of the title of land for innocent people in Connecticut who are suffering,” Davis said. “I expect there to be strong support because many parts of the state have either experienced or are worried about having to experience massive land claims being made in their region.”
In addition to the Trumbull-based Golden Hill Paugussetts, the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of Litchfield County also has sought title to thousands of acres along the Housatonic River in Kent. That claim is pending in federal court. Both tribes also are seeking federal recognition and the right to open gambling casinos in the state.
Copyright 2002, Hartford Courant
Mashantuckets Learn Money Equals Power Tribe Made $1.7 Million In Contributions
By Paul Choiniere
Feb. 15, 2002
‘They spread money on both sides of the aisle and give generous soft money to both parties. It’s a shotgun approach — spray your money around — and it works.’ Jeff Benedict, author of ‘Without Reservation’ and candidate for Congress.
In the 2000 Campaign, Republican Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington state faced a spirited challenge from upstart Democrat Maria Cantwell.
With Gorton the favored incumbent, the election appeared his to win.
But Gorton had made some enemies among American Indians. His proposals to tax the revenue from reservation casinos and to limit the governmental status of recognized tribes angered Native American leaders across the country.
More than $800,000 in tribal donations poured into the First American Education Project, a political action group targeting Gorton. Television advertisements run by the group painted Gorton as an enemy of both the environment and of the first Americans.
W. Ron Allen, leader of the First American Education Project, later told reporters: “We’re going to use Gorton as an example of how tribes can use soft money to protect their interests.”
American Indian tribes have arrived as a political force to be reckoned with. None have been stronger or more influential than the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which has used the financial wealth generated by the Foxwoods Resort Casino to gain a voice in the body politic. The tribe, for example, contributed $20,000 to the First American Education Project, the organization that helped bounce Gorton from office on the other side of the continent.
In politics, money is power, and it is money and the access it provides that for the first time have given Native Americans a seat at the political poker table, said John Guevremont, director of national government affairs for the Mashantuckets.
“The tribe has the same rights as all citizens of the United States and those include being heard in the Congress and petitioning the federal government,” said Guevremont, principal lobbyist for the Mashantuckets. “Basically these rights were not exercised until tribes achieved two abilities: One, education to understand the laws and the political process and, second, the economic means to exercise those rights.”
According to statistics gathered by the political watchdog group Common Cause, the Mashantucket tribe made $1.7 million in soft money contributions between 1988 through 2001, with roughly half that money spent in the last five years as the tribe’s wealth and influence grew.
According to Common Cause, that puts the Mashantuckets among the leaders in political spending by gambling interests, though Guevremont notes that much of his lobbying work has to do with tribal issues unrelated to gambling.
Soft money refers to contributions made to national political parties and political action committees, gifts that are not restricted by the same $1,000 spending limits placed on donations made directly to candidates.
Critics have argued that soft money allows corporate, union and wealthy donors to dominate the election process with the kind of spending abuses that post-Watergate federal campaign finance laws were intended to prevent.
While the tribe spreads its largesse around, the Democrats have been the bigger beneficiaries. From 1995 to 2001 the Mashantuckets donated $703,625 to the Democrats and $435,948 to the Republicans, according to federal records. Recipients included the national committees for both parties and their congressional and senatorial election committees.
The figures do not include the many thousands of dollars contributed by individual tribal members directly to candidates, which can range up to $1,000 per donation. State and federal campaign spending documents show tribal members made donations to candidates in races ranging from the state legislature through the presidency, with money given to candidates of both political persuasions.
Guevremont said the bipartisan nature of the contributions is indicative of the political diversity of tribal members who, like the American public in general, range in political ideology from conservative to liberals.
“In terms of political contributions, we support our friends, those people who understand Indian issues and have supported us in the past,” Guevremont said. “We like to see such people re-elected to office to continue to do their good work.”
The overriding political priority of the Mashantuckets and American Indians generally is the preservation of tribal sovereignty and assuring tribes have the same rights and privileges as other governments, he said.
In a major victory for tribal lobbyists, the Clinton Administration amended its final budget to include a repeal of a tax law that had forced American Indian tribes to pay federal unemployment taxes. The change was approved with no hearings or debates.
Guevremont said it was a question of fairness. Municipal and state governments do not have to pay unemployment taxes, and so tribal governments should not have to, Guevremont and other tribal lobbyists argued.
This year, Indian Country is turning its attention to proposed legislation that would extend to tribal governments the ability to float tax-free bonds for construction projects, the same way municipal and state governments do.
Guevremont said the provision could give the Mashantucket tribe a greater ability to raise capital and diversify its business enterprises, including off the reservation. For less affluent tribes in the West it could be a key component of economic development, he said.
Some see abuses resulting from the large amounts of money that the Mashantuckets and other tribes are able to pour into the political process.
In March, 2000 former Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Kevin Gover, overturning the recommendations of his own staff, granted preliminary federal recognition status to the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots and Eastern Pequots in southeastern Connecticut.
Critics of the decision saw a connection between Gover’s decision, his former work as a Clinton fundraiser, and the large contributions that tribes had directed to the Democrats.
Freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd, whose district includes both the Mohegan and Mashantucket reservations, has introduced a bill to reform the federal tribal recognition process and remove the opportunity for political favoritism. The bill includes a provision that would require the BIA to recognize only those Indian groups that meet all seven of the federal government’s recognition criteria, reducing the role of subjective analysis in the recognition process.
Simmons has walked a political tight rope between representing the interests of the financially powerfully Mashantucket tribe and those of residents living in the towns that have felt the impact of the Foxwoods empire. He tried unsuccessfully last year to bring tribal leaders and representatives of the towns of Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston together to negotiate an agreement limiting expansion of the tribe’s reservation.
Jeff Benedict of East Lyme, author of the book “Without Reservation” that questioned the legitimacy of the Mashantucket Pequots, is seeking the Democratic nomination and the right to oppose Simmons in the November election. Benedict said Simmons and Connecticut’s other elected leaders in Washington are unwilling to take on the Mashantuckets.
“They spread money on both sides of the aisle and give generous soft money to both parties. It’s a shotgun approach — spray your money around — and it works,” said Benedict, who is refusing to accept money from political action committees.
Because of the tribe’s influence, said Benedict, tough questions are not being asked about its legitimacy as a tribe, its distribution of federally-subsidized prescription drugs to its employees, its opposition to union workers at the casino, and its exclusion from open government and corporate financial disclosure laws.
“Those are the kinds of things that congressmen and senators should be very interested in looking into,” Benedict said. “It’s another example of how money neutralizes principles in politics.”
Last September, the state’s Ethics Commission fined the tribe $40,000 for providing luxurious free dinners to Connecticut delegates at both the Republican and Democratic 2000 national conventions. The expense of the dinners far exceeded the $50 per plate limits the state places on political soirees.
By and large, however, the tribe’s relationship with the state’s political leaders and its governor, John G. Rowland, has been a good one, said Joseph Colebut, director of state government affairs for the tribe. It doesn’t hurt that slot machine revenues contribute $190 million annually to the state budget.
“We are a large employer and contribute a significant amount of money to the state,” said Colebut. “We want an ongoing relationship with the state and we are making progress in that area all the time.”
Supreme Court Rules Act Confers No Favor on Tribes Local Leaders Say the Decision Could Aid their Battle Against Annexation
By Gail Ellen Daly, Norwich Bulletin
January 23, 2002
A recent Supreme Court decision could provide three southeastern Connecticut towns some aid in their federal lawsuit against annexation claims by the Mashantucket Pequot tribe.
The nation’s high court recently ruled that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does not grant special treatment to tribes. Local officials said the high court ruling appears to conflict directly with the Second Circuit Court’s decision in the local case, in which it ruled disputes involving tribes should be resolved “in favor of the tribe.”
At issue in the high court decision is the use of “Indian canon.” The case involved the Chicksaw Nation and Chocktaw Nation of Oklahoma, which claimed they were exempt from paying certain taxes. In arguments made before the high court on Oct. 2, the two tribes argued that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act should be construed to fall under the Indian canon, which holds than in the event an issue is unclear, courts should resolve the issue in favor of Indians.
“The towns opposed this argument,” North Stonington First Selectman Nicholas H. Mullane II said, “and demonstrated that the Indian canon was intended to apply only in situations where Indians were at a disadvantage in entering into treaties with the federal government.”
The towns of North Stonington, Ledyard and Preston filed an Amicus Curiae brief in the Chicksaw Chocktaw case in support of the federal government’s effort to levy taxes against the Oklahoma tribes.
Mullane said the towns filed the brief because they were concerned that the Supreme Court would find that Indian canon applied to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, affecting their lawsuit.
The Supreme Court ruled the gaming regulation act did not create an exemption from taxes imposed upon tribes under the Internal Revenue Code, but did not address the specific issue of Indian canon and the argument of resolutions in favor of tribes.
“With this decision, the tribes do not get another tax break,” Mullane said, “and we have the basis for arguing that Indian canon does not control interpretations of IGRA.”
The Mashantucket Pequots applied to have additional lands taken into trust, an application approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, resulting in the local lawsuit being filed in 1995. But the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that Congress did not intend the 1983 Settlement Act to limit the authority of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take additional land into trust.
The towns, which are appealing that decision, have argued the court reached that decision by applying Indian canon and that its application determined that the text of the Settlement Act should be resolved in favor of the tribe.
The case has been remanded to the district court for consideration.
“This is an important ruling that sets the stage for the courts to stop giving favorable treatment to tribes any time a case involving Indian law is involved,” Ledyard Mayor Wesley Johnson said. “Many laws, like IGRA, are the result of intense lobbying from well-financed and well-represented tribes. They should have no special advantage in such cases.”
Mashantucket Pequot spokes-man Arthur Hennick said that the tribe was not a party to the case and had no comment other than, “We pay all appropriate taxes.”
Danbury Area Leaders Urged To Act Against Tribal Petitions
By Rick Green, Courant Staff Writer
January 11, 2002
DANBURY — Seasoned opponents of Indian casinos Thursday told dozens of nervous municipal leaders from towns along the I-84 corridor that they had better start mobilizing against tribes looking for federal recognition.
Business and top elected officials from the Danbury area were gathered to consider what to do about the possibility of a casino opening in the area. Specifically, lawyers urged them to formally oppose the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation’s petition to become federally recognized, a process that could lead to the Indians eventually opening a gambling casino.
“The reality of an Indian casino is like nothing you have ever faced before,” said Guy Martin, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who represents communities fighting Indian tribes seeking federal recognition. “There are petitioning tribes who are very interested in your area.”
Federally acknowledged tribes in Connecticut may negotiate to open a casino.
Last month, the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation was considering a number of possible sites along I-84 for a casino, including the old Union Carbide headquarters in Danbury. Tribal leaders have said they are not interested in opening a casino where they are not wanted.
The Schaghticokes expect to receive a proposed ruling on recognition from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs by September. Communities must speak up by next month, formally filing as an “interested party” with the Bureau of Indian Affairs if they want their arguments to be considered before a ruling is made.
Danbury Mayor Mark D. Boughton said he was adamantly opposed to a casino anywhere near his city.
“I’m not interested in hosting any kind of casino,” he said. “We can do better than that.” Boughton said he expected Danbury to act soon to formally oppose the Schaghticokes.
“I think the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials has to call an emergency meeting to get our act in gear here,” said another opponent, John Katz, a member of the planning and zoning commission in Ridgefield. He was among about 75 people at the meeting.
“This issue is not about being for or against Native Americans,” said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. He told the group that four state tribes are moving closer to recognition decisions from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “It is about whether or not this [Schaghticoke] petition merits recognition.”
Martin, a lawyer with the firm of Perkins Coie – which represents Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston in their fight against expansion of the Mashantucket Pequot reservation – told the town leaders that waiting could mean losing their chance to speak up.
“The train is leaving the station with the Schaghticokes. You have an opportunity to become involved now,” added David Elliot, a lawyer with Day, Berry & Howard in Hartford. Elliot represents the private Kent School, in Kent, in opposing the tribe. The Schaghticokes have filed a land claim that includes a portion of the school’s campus.
“None of the petitions are done deals,” Elliot said. “No one can predict the outcome.”