Schaghticoke Tribal Nation still fighting for federal recognition and a casino

A powwow on the Schaghticoke Reservation in Connecticut, sometime in 1939 or 1940. The reservation has been recognized in state law since Colonial times and the tribe's rights are also recognized in state law. Photo by Schaghticoke Tribal Nation

The long and sad saga of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation is at the center of a battle over a new casino in Connecticut.

The tribe was one of the first to seek federal recognition from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, having filed a letter of intent back in 1981, long before Indian gaming became big business. But by the time the agency was ready to make a decision on the petition, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe had already opened casinos and politicians were worried about the prospects of another one in the state.

“There was a popular response also that Connecticut was changing as a result of the two casinos and the brakes should be put on before other tribes were recognized and new casinos established,” Joe Lieberman, a former U.S. Senator who fought the federal recognition petition, told The New York Times.

Lieberman, though, has since changed his tune as have other politicians in the state. His law firm is representing the Schaghticokes as they seek to bid on a new casino that the Mashantucket and Mohegan tribes are pursuing with the blessing of state lawmakers.

“We’ve been here 300 years,” Velky told The Times. “Whether Connecticut likes it or not, we are one of the state’s first families, and we will continue to be.”

The state is seeking the dismissal of the lawsuit and already won the dismissal of a different lawsuit filed by MGM Resorts International, a non-Indian gaming company that's building a $950 million commercial casino in neighboring Massachusetts. The Mashantucket and Mohegan tribes are looking at locations near the border in order to address competition from the new facility, which is due to open in the fall of 2018.

The Mashantucket and Mohegan tribes have yet to select a site for the casino and they will need to go back to the Connecticut Legislature to authorize it. They are pursuing the project independent of the framework of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The Mashantuckets won federal recognition through an act of Congress in 1983. The Mohegans went through the BIA and won a final determination in 1994 after providing enough evidence to overcome a negative proposed finding.

The Schaghticokes won a positive final determination only to see the BIA reverse course after a significant lobbying effort from Connecticut. The tribe still believes its qualifies for federal status.

"STN satisfies all of the criteria for federal acknowledgement, however it continues to be unfairly denied the benefits of healthcare, housing, educational programs, economic diversification opportunities and, especially, the national sovereignty that is enjoyed by two other Connecticut tribes who have both vowed to me personally that they would not hinder our efforts to reclaim our federal recognition," Chief Velky said in a statement on Wednesday.

Get the Story:
A Connecticut Tribe Fights for Recognition, and a Piece of the Casino Industry (The New York Times 6/28)
MGM Litigates, Lobbys Over Potential Competition (WNPR 6/28)

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