Connecticut Indian tribes denied federal recognition

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Slamming shut the federal tribal recognition era in Connecticut, the Interior Department yesterday rejected bids by the Schaghticoke and Eastern Pequot Indians and effectively ended the prospects of additional casinos in the state. The long-awaited rulings, after years of research, reversals and rising tensions over the prospect of more mega-casinos in Connecticut, crushed tribal members gathered in Kent and North Stonington. The denials followed an Interior Department appeals panel's reversal in May of positive recognition decisions for the tribes.

As a driving rain pushed the Housatonic over its banks and flooded portions of the Schaghticokes' Kent reservation, Chief Richard Velky vowed never to give in.

"We are the people of this land,'' an emotional Velky told about 100 somber and crying tribal members. "If they claim for one second that this is going to deter this tribe, look at our history. Look at how many times they kept us off the land. You burned our homes. You stopped us from assembling. We are here today and we are not stopping today.'' Meanwhile, at their North Stonington tribal offices, the Eastern Pequots were defiant, blaming political lobbying and backroom deal-making for tearing down their dream.

"Our people will pay the price for that corruption," said tribal Chairwoman Marcia Flowers. She said the tribe would review the decision and decide what to do. "The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation has never shied away from a challenge," she said. "For now, we will be praying for guidance as we prepare to take the next step."

Flowers said the decision was disappointing - an emotion clearly registered on the faces of the council members around her - but that "it is far from the end of the long struggle to confirm the heritage that we know is ours." In a deep voice, Flowers recapped the Eastern Pequots' history, which predates Colonial Connecticut. Since 1978, they have sought the same federal recognition enjoyed by two state tribes, the Mashantucket Pequots, owners of Foxwoods Resort Casino, and the Mohegans, owners of Mohegan Sun.

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