Judge turns Schaghticoke recognition back to BIA
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MAY 10, 2001

After previously ruling that the agency has taken too long to decide on the tribe's status, a federal judge in Connecticut on Wednesday placed the federal recognition petition of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation back in the hands of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The move was welcomed by tribal leaders and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. The two have conflicted on a number of issues, a none too familiar sight in the battles over federal recognition being fought in the state.

But like Blumenthal's lawsuit against the Bureau over the status of two Pequot tribes, a final decision in the case of the Schaghticoke is still far off. US District Judge Peter Dorsey said the BIA has to issue a preliminary ruling on the tribe in August 2002.

After a six-month comment period -- standard review for petitions -- the Bureau would then finalize its decision by June 2003. Pending court challenges, which are likely whether or not the tribe is successful, the decision would become effective in September 2003.

For the tribe, however, Dorsey's ruling sets in place a more concrete timeline than the one leaders could have expected at the BIA. After filing its intent to petition for recognition in 1981, the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation was placed on the "ready" list in 1997.

The ready list consists of the petitioners on whom the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research (BAR) is set to make a decision. Being on the list doesn't guarantee a speedy resolution, though, and some tribes like the Schaghticoke have threatened litigation to force a determination.

But with 10 other petitioners currently on ready status, the Schaghticoke now have a chance to jump ahead somewhat in the queue. Seven groups -- including the St. Francis Abenaki of Vermont (Petitioner #68), the Mashpee Wampanoag of Massachusetts (Petitioner #15), and the Piro/Manso/Tiwa Tribe of New Mexico (Petitioner #5) -- would technically be given priority over the Schaghticoke had litigation not been initiated.

Last August, the BIA had denied a request by the tribe to have its petition considered at the same time as another state recognized tribe in Connecticut. A month later, Judge Dorsey criticized the BIA for failing to decide on the tribe's petition in a timely manner.

In March 1999, Dorsey had previously given the government 18 months to make a determination on the tribe. The tribe has two land claims lawsuits pending.

The tribe is based in Kent, near the New York border and on the Appalachian Trail. Its reservation was established in the 1600s.

The town of Kent last fall agreed to spend $200,000 to study the tribe's petition. Town leaders have taken no official position on the tribe's status. Other towns have spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to oppose the recognition of the Eastern Pequot Tribe and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Tribe.

In March, another federal judge in Connecticut ruled the BIA has to make a final decision on the two tribes by December. The government is imposing the imposition of a timeline in that case, arguing it is unfair to other petitioning groups to give priority to the Pequot petitions.

Get Blumenthal's Response:
Statement on Judge's Ruling in Schaghticoke Indian Case (Atty Gen 5/9)

Relevant Links:
Branch of Acknowledgment and Research -
US District Court for the District of Connecticut -

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Federal recognition update (2/26)
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Court to rule on recognition (9/21)
Official says BIA can't do job (9/15)
Forum to address recognition, gaming (9/12)
Former Foxwoods head advises tribe (9/7)
Schaghticoke denied (8/7)
Town holds tribal forum (6/23)