NORTH STONINGTON — In their first public reaction to the U.S. government's proposed reform of the federal recognition process for Indian tribes, the Eastern Pequots say they're "outraged" by a provision that would enable third parties to prevent them from re-applying for recognition.
The proposed revisions, released three weeks ago by Kevin Washburn, the Department of the Interior's assistant secretary for Indian affairs, would, in certain cases, allow tribes that have been denied recognition to re-apply under new regulations that some consider less stringent.
Third parties that participated in an administrative reconsideration or federal court appeal of a previous petition for recognition would have to consent in writing to a re-petitioning.
The Easterns were federally recognized in 2002, but the decision was reversed in 2005 following an appeal by the state and more than 20 towns, including North Stonington, Ledyard and Preston.
"The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation appreciates the BIA's proposed reform efforts but is outraged at the 'third party veto,' " the Easterns said in a statement issued late Wednesday. "EPTN believes the veto undermines the very intent of the proposed regulations to fix the 'broken process.' "
State and local officials have opposed the rules changes, fearing they could ease the path to recognition for a number of tribal groups, including three state-recognized tribes that have tried and failed to gain recognition in the past: the Easterns, the Kent-based Schaghticokes and the Golden Hill Paugussetts of Trumbull and Colchester.
Federal recognition, or acknowledgment, can entitle a tribe to sovereign status, federal aid for housing, education and health care and the right to have land taken into trust for casino development.
The Interior Department is conducting tribal consultations and public meetings on the proposed revisions during July, with the only meeting in the Northeast scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to noon July 29 in Mashpee, Mass. Comments are due Aug. 1 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the Easterns' statement, Dennis Jenkins, chairman of the tribal council, said, "The tribe will continue to fight to regain the acknowledgment that was politically taken from us. We will always be Pequots regardless of the state's efforts to eradicate us."