Unless it can be stopped, Connecticut is about to get rolled by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is so angry about this that he hand-delivered a letter about it to President Obama last week. Everyone ought to be angry.
The BIA is preparing new rules — or watering down its old rules — on tribal recognition. If the rules are approved, three putative tribes that have been denied federal recognition in the past — the Eastern Pequot of North Stonington, the Golden Hill Paugussett of Colchester and Trumbull and the Schaghticoke of Kent — will be eligible to try again, under much less exacting standards.
If they win recognition, the result will be "devastating" to Connecticut, as Mr. Malloy told the president. These "tribes" have filed or threatened land claims to large swaths of fully developed land in Connecticut, claims that can cloud titles to property. Recognition will require the state to set aside trust lands, taking property off the tax rolls.
These tribes were backed by casino money when they sought recognition a decade ago, no surprise, and though new casinos aren't allowed under current law, the land claims could force the state to rethink its two-casino arrangement.
There is no need for any of this. The existing rules were fair and sensible. Under these rules, a tribe had to show it has been continuously identified as an American Indian entity since 1900 and to have continuously existed as a distinct cultural and political community since Colonial times. As of 2013, there were 566 federally recognized tribes.
The Schaghticokes and Easterns lost their bids for federal recognition in 2005 when they could not prove that they had existed as an intact community with cultural and social interaction through the centuries. The Paugussetts were turned down in 2004 when they were unable even to prove they were members of an Indian tribe.
But under the proposed new rules, the requirement that a tribe has maintained continuous cultural community and political authority since historical times would be eliminated — the date would be upped to 1934. That would appear to make the Hartford Elks Club eligible.
These questions were decided a decade ago, and the state moved on. To change the rules now and start over is just wrong. It's been opposed by the state's entire congressional delegation, the attorney general, municipal leaders and others. Let's hope the president hops on the bandwagon.