North Stonington official warns towns of tribal land claims

Stonington - North Stonington First Selectman Nicholas Mullane warned the Board of Selectmen here Wednesday night that proposed revisions to the way the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs recognizes tribes could soon mean that the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot tribe will claim land in Stonington.

He said the tribe, whose initial recognition application was rejected by the BIA, has shown interest in 3,000 acres in the southeastern section of North Stonington that borders Stonington. He said it would be easy for the tribe to expand those land claims into Stonington.

Mullane said this would mean the land would be taken off the tax rolls, and the towns would receive no tax money from any tribal development of land, such as shopping centers and industrial parks.

In addition, he said the towns would have no jurisdiction over zoning or environmental issues. Such land claims have also raised questions about current owners' titles to their properties.

Mullane said his stop in Stonington Wednesday was his first in towns in southeastern Connecticut that could be affected by the proposed recognition changes.

"I believe every town in southeastern Connecticut faces a risk with this, and I'm going to try and convince them to sign on," he said about the effort of North Stonington, Ledyard, Preston, Cornwall and Roxbury to oppose the changes.

Mullane said he and the law firm that represents North Stonington on tribal recognition issues believe that the relaxed recognition rules would virtually ensure the recognition of the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots and other tribes in Connecticut that have had trouble getting recognized in the past.

"This is a crisis right now," Mullane told the Stonington selectmen, suggesting that tribal recognition could be implemented in two years. "I'm concerned towns like yours are not paying attention."

Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek said he and the other selectmen will digest the information given to them by Mullane and discuss it at their next meeting.

"Definitely the next meeting we'll vote and start being involved more," Haberek said.

At this point, Mullane said his town, which has spent millions of dollars over the past two decades on tribal recognition issues, is just seeking Stonington to sign on to a letter with the other towns.

Mullane said his town and the others are seeking to have the federal Office of Management and Budget and the BIA extend the deadline for submitting public comment on the proposed revisions.

Mullane said the state's congressional delegation as well as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sent a letter to the BIA last year opposing the changes.

Mullane said the subject is an uncomfortable one for people because some see any opposition of recognition efforts as being "anti-Indian." But he said it is about fairness and following the rules set down to recognize tribes.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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