Effects of Potential Connecticut Tribal Recognitions in Debate

Mar 18, 2014

Dancers at an event at the Pequot Museum last fall.
Credit Brandon Lavallee / Pequot Museum

Federal authorities are considering changes to tribal recognition procedures and it could have a unique impact on Connecticut. But it's unclear exactly what rights any newly recognized tribes would have.

Three tribes in Connecticut have sought and been denied federal recognition in the past. They are the Eastern Pequots, the Schaghticokes, and the Golden Hill Paugussetts. The Bureau of Indian Affairs said it may give expedited recognition to groups which have maintained state reservations over several decades.

Governor Dannel Malloy has written to President Obama protesting the proposal, saying future land claims by newly recognized tribes could be devastating to Connecticut property owners and towns.

But Bethany Berger, who's a professor of law at UConn, said a 2005 court ruling has removed that threat. “Since then, essentially land claims have become pretty toothless,” she told WNPR’s Where We Live. “Tribes can no longer bring land claims against the state that are going to be recognized in this area, so that’s no longer an issue.”

The Mohegan Tribe Community Center and Government Building in Uncasville.
Credit U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

Governor Malloy said there are no guarantees. "I certainly would not look my citizens in the face, given all of this," he said, "and say to you in Kent, Connecticut, or anywhere in Litchfield, or anywhere in the northern half of Fairfield County, or anywhere in New London, that I absolutely guarantee you that land claims will not be made, and will not be prosecuted successfully."

There's also significant uncertainty about whether newly-recognized tribes could apply for gaming licenses, and potentially disrupt the state's compact with the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans.