Municipal leaders call for Connecticut meeting on proposed changes in federal recognition of tribes

Thirteen first selectmen and two mayors are calling for the U.S. Department of the Interior to conduct a public meeting in Connecticut on proposed changes in the federal-recognition process for Indian tribes.

In a letter Friday to Kevin Washburn, the department’s assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, the municipal leaders say it appears the department is trying to avoid holding meetings in areas that are most affected by the proposed changes, such as Connecticut.

“Mr. Washburn needs to come to Hartford to hear directly from the residents and affected parties in the state,” the letter says.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had called for a Connecticut meeting in a July 28 letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. The department then extended the deadline for written comments from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30. It scheduled two additional public meetings, via conference call, on Sept. 3 and 5, but none in Connecticut.

“The teleconference public meetings are no substitute for a live meeting in person,” the municipal leaders say in their letter.

State and local officials have opposed the proposed changes, contending they would all but ensure federal recognition for a number of tribal groups in Connecticut, including three state-recognized tribes that have so far been denied federal recognition: the Eastern Pequots of North Stonington, the Kent-based Schaghticokes and the Golden Hill Paugussetts of Trumbull and Colchester.

Federal recognition can entitle a tribe to sovereign status, federal aid for housing, education and health care, and the right to have land taken into trust for economic development, including a casino.

Putnam Mayor Anthony Falzarano, who signed the municipal leaders’ letter, said he was concerned that a Nipmuc tribal group in Webster, Mass., could pursue land claims in his town if the group gained federal recognition. That, he said, “would be a catastrophic problem.”

Also signing the letter were Mayor John Rodolico of Ledyard and First Selectmen Stanley Soby of Colchester, Gordon Ridgway of Cornwall, Paul Formica of East Lyme, Richard Matters of Franklin, Kevin Skulczyck of Griswold, Bruce Adams of Kent, Nicholas Mullane II of North Stonington, Robert Congdon of Preston, Barbara Henry of Roxbury, Rudy Marconi of Ridgefield, Edward Haberek Jr. of Stonington, Timothy Herbst of Trumbull and Mark Lyon of Washington.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

Twitter: @bjhallenbeck

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