A rival faction of the tribe, the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, is hoping the new rules breathe life into its own parallel bid for recognition. The larger STN had the backing of Subway founder Fred DeLuca, who was interested in building a casino in Bridgeport, and it won recognition in 2004. But that decision was reversed after state officials argued the tribe had gaps in evidence related to its historical continuity.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Connecticut’s congressional delegation is united against changes that he said would have far-reaching ramifications for several towns and the entire state.
“Our hope is we can dissuade officials from proceeding with a regulatory step that would be very misguided because it would essentially eviscerate and eliminate key criteria,” Blumenthal said.
Supporters of the rule change say it helps to remove unfair burdens. Judith Shapiro, an attorney who has worked with several tribes on recognition bids, said some have lost out because records were lost or burned over hundreds of years, and any tribe that was still together by 1934 had overcome histories of mistreatment and pressure to blend in with mainstream society.
But Nicholas Mullane, the first selectman in North Stonington, Conn., questions whether a Connecticut tribe whose members have played in the local little league and joined local churches should have the same standing as others. He is preparing to fight a renewed recognition bid by the Eastern Pequots, who have a small state-issued reservation in town.
“It’s not like somebody in the West where you have a huge reservation and a government and they meet regularly,” he said.
The Schaghticoke reservation dates to the mid-1700s, but it has been carved up to a tenth of its original size. As recently as 1960, Russell said, the town fire department would come out to burn down homes on the reservation when tribal members died to prevent others from occupying them.
When Russell’s own house burned down in 1998, however, the townspeople from across the Housatonic River helped him to rebuild. Russell, who grew up hunting and fishing on the reservation, said if the tribe wins recognition, it can work something out with the town on the land claims.
“That’s what I want them to understand,” he said. “We’re not the enemy.”