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Conn. tribe loses second shot at federal status

The Bureau of Indian Affairs on Tuesday announced plans to deny recognition to a Connecticut tribe whose earlier attempt to gain federal status was thwarted, and then revived, by the Clinton administration.

Aurene Martin, the acting assistant secretary for Indian affairs, said the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe of Connecticut failed to satisfy the criteria for recognition. Government researchers found a lack of evidence in three out of seven categories, including descent from an historic Indian nation, political influence and continuous existence.

"Since 1823, the evidence shows that the historical Golden Hill Indians ceased to exist as a distinct community," a statement released by the BIA said.

The decision, which is only preliminary, is the second blow the BIA has delivered to the state-recognized tribe. In 1996, former assistant secretary Ada Deer rejected the tribe's petition, citing the genealogical issue.

But three years later, the tribe was given another chance to prove its case. The record was reopened to fully address what Quiet Hawk, the Paugussett chief otherwise known as Aurelius H. Piper Jr., yesterday said was 350 years of history.

"This is disappointing," he said yesterday, "but we will move to fully address the technical question cited by the Bureau of Indian Affairs."

More welcoming was Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal, who has opposed tribes on a number of issues. "This decision is a victory for the public interest, upholding the law and facts, and reaffirming the BIA's 1996 final determination denying recognition to the Golden Hill group," he said. "As we have consistently contended, this petition fails to meet several key mandatory criteria established by law for federal recognition."

The 300-member Paugussett Tribe, which has a one-quarter acre reservation, is one of several in Connecticut that has sought federal recognition and the benefits, such as housing and health care, associated with that status. State law affords most attributes of self-determination, such as freedom from taxation and the right to determine membership, but Republicans are moving to repeal it.

The tribe has been up front about its plans to build a casino in economically-depressed Bridgeport, whose officials have welcomed the idea and whose residents have started a support group. Without federal status, though, gaming is impossible.

Also at stake are claims to as much as 10,000 acres of land in southern New England. Those lawsuits were put on hold pending the outcome of the recognition question and are likely to be dismissed once the BIA decision is final.

Document fully explaining the BIA's reasoning were not available yesterday. The BIA will publish a notice of its decision in the Federal Register within the coming days, triggering 180 days of public comment, to be followed by two-month period during which the tribe can make additional arguments and respond to issues raised.

"We've always perceived this not to be the end of the road," said Michael O'Connell, an attorney for the tribe, "but rather one of the steps in the long road."

Relevant Links:
Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe - http://paugussett.itgo.com
Friends of the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe - http://www.paugussetts.com

Related Stories:
BIA declines recognition of Paugussett Tribe (1/21)
BIA to issue decision on Paugussett recognition (1/21)
State recognized tribe inks casino deal (12/20)
Conn. lawmaker wants recognition revoked (12/12)
Bill would terminate state tribes (12/11)
Conn. city will negotiate with tribe (12/03)
Conn. tribe awaits recognition decision (11/11)
Conn. tribe gets support on casino (11/7)
Support plenty for tribal casino (10/17)
Conn. tribe withdraws casino deal (10/16)
Conn. tribe disputes casino study (09/27)
Tribe threatens land claims over casino (9/19)
Conn. tribe would settle land claim (8/12)
Conn. tribe pins hopes on casino (7/19)
Friends of tribe rally for casino (7/18)
Survey finds support for tribal casino (5/13)
Rival Paugussett group locked out (4/30)
Mohegan official doubts recognitions (1/30)
Recognition hearing next week (1/29)
Editorial: Praise on recognition push (1/28)
Hearings on recognition bill planned (1/16)
Man claims true leader of Conn. tribe (1/14)

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