HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A review that is expected to produce new U.S. rules for recognizing American Indian tribes as early as this summer is stirring up heat in Connecticut, where the governor is leading efforts to block changes that could open the door to more tribal casinos.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy argued in a letter he delivered last week to President Barack Obama that proposals under consideration could hurt the state by aiding tribal claims to vast areas of fully developed land.
Alan Russell, the leader of one faction of the Schaghticoke tribe in Kent, criticized the governor in a statement asking whether Malloy is a "lapdog" for wealthy land owners in Litchfield County. He said last weekend that his tribe was the first to encounter settlers in Connecticut and members fought alongside George Washington.
"You have a strange way of showing respect to those who helped build the State you represent," Russell said.
The rule changes, first proposed in draft form last June by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, are intended to streamline the approval process but are seen by some as watering down standards for recognition.
If approved, the changes could benefit the Schaghticokes of Kent, the Golden Hill Paugussetts of Trumbull and Colchester and the Eastern Pequots of North Stonington. The only recognized tribes in Connecticut are currently the Mohegans and the Mashantucket Pequots, who each own giant casino resorts.
Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, said Tuesday that it is still reviewing comments on the proposed regulations and revised rules are not likely to be made public, in the federal register, until this summer or later. Another period of consultations with the tribe and the public would follow.
Malloy, local officials and Connecticut's entire congressional delegation have taken their opposition of the proposed changes to the Interior Department, which invited public comment at hearings last summer in Oregon, California, Michigan, Maine and Louisiana.
"It's been a process that's been east to west, north to south," Darling said. "There's been lots of input."
At the heart of opposition by Connecticut officials is a proposal to give Indian groups a pass on other requirements for recognition as long as some descendants have lived on a state reservation since 1934. Malloy said Connecticut appears to be the only state in which a reservation has been maintained since then for a group that already has been denied recognition.