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The decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to postpone implementation of new rules that would make it easier for Indian tribes in the state to gain recognition, and introduce more legalized gambling, is welcomed news. However, the proposed rule changes remain fundamentally flawed and unnecessary.
After receiving concerns from the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Connecticut's congressional delegation and local leaders, the BIA extended by 60 days the public comment period, which will now end Sept. 30.
We remain at a lost as to why the BIA needs to change the tribal recognition rules. Other tribes have met the existing requirements and those that failed did so because they could not demonstrate they have remained a tribal entity through time.
Under existing rules, tribes have had to show a community structure stretching to colonial times. The new rules would instead demand demonstrating "community and political influence/authority from 1934 to the present." It would open the door to abuse, with contemporary authorities with no clear ancestral links to the tribes they claim to be a part of receiving the same benefits as tribes that have proven their case under the tougher guidelines.
Among those expected to seek federal recognition if the rules change as planned are the Eastern Pequots. The tribe did receive tentative recognition in 2002, but that standing was revoked in 2005 under increased scrutiny.
The proposed BIA regulations were amended to address Connecticut's concerns it could become home to several new recognized tribes, leading to new land claims, more land removed from state control and land-use regulations, and more casinos. Meanwhile, the existing casinos operated by the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots have already experienced big declines.
The "Connecticut amendment" would allow those who have previously fought and blocked tribal recognition - such as Connecticut - to veto any renewed attempt by the same tribe to seek recognition under the new rules. That would block the Easterns, for example.
That rule appears unfair and, if implemented, will likely be found to violate the Constitution's equal protection doctrine.
The better course is to stick with existing rules. Unfortunately, the leadership of the BIA appears intent on approving the changes. Gov. Malloy should continue pressing the Obama administration to reconsider.