Feds want tribe's lawsuit dismissed

Attorneys for the U.S. government have asked a judge to dismiss the Historic Eastern Pequot Tribe's bid to regain its short-lived federal recognition.

In a filing this month in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, attorneys for Kenneth Salazar, secretary of the Department of the Interior, and Larry Echo Hawk, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, said the court lacks jurisdiction in the case because the tribe raises claims that are beyond the applicable statutes of limitations.

Alternatively, "in the interest of justice," the government attorneys asked that if the court finds it does have jurisdiction, it transfer the case to district court in Connecticut.

The North Stonington-based tribe sued in January, contesting the Bureau of Indian Affairs' 2005 reversal of a 2002 decision granting recognition to the "historical Eastern Pequot tribe," which comprised two previously separate factions, the Eastern Pequots and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots.

Amid an internal dispute over authorization for the suit, the tribe filed an amended version in March.

Back in 2002, the state and the towns of Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston sought a review of the BIA's original "final determination" recognizing the tribe. That led to an Interior Board of Indian Affairs' decision "vacating and remanding" the BIA's ruling. Subsequently, an associate deputy secretary of the Interior issued a "reconsidered final determination" rescinding the recognition.

In its suit, the tribe challenges the IBIA's order to vacate the BIA's original decision, the reconsidered decision and an IBIA finding in January 2006 that it had no authority to review the reconsidered decision.

The government, in its motion seeking dismissal of the suit, asserts that the tribe raised most of its claims "several months after the applicable statute of limitations period had expired."

Federal recognition confers certain benefits on Indian tribes, including eligibility for federal aid for housing, education and health care.

Meanwhile, the Department of the Interior has announced that Echo Hawk, who took office as secretary of Indian Affairs in 2009, is resigning to take a leadership position in the Mormon church. His resignation is effective April 27.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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