AP NEWS

Easterns critical of state’s involvement with gaming tribes

February 23, 2018

North Stonington — Connecticut’s close relationship with the casino-owning Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes continues to anger the Eastern Pequot Tribe.

In a letter this week to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Easterns take issue with a Connecticut congressional delegation’s call for an investigation into the Department of the Interior’s failure to act on state-tribe gaming amendments, a step that’s critical to the gaming tribes’ joint development of an East Windsor casino.

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Reps. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and John Larson, D-1st District, requested earlier this month that Interior’s Office of Inspector General look into their claim that Interior has shirked its responsibility. The delegation suggested that Interior’s inaction stems from lobbying efforts on behalf of opponents of the East Windsor casino, namely MGM Resorts, developer of a competing casino under construction in Springfield, Mass.

The Easterns say Connecticut’s involvement in the matter sharply contrasts with the state’s long-running opposition to the Easterns’ bid for federal recognition, a status the two gaming tribes enjoy. Such recognition can entitle a tribe to aid for economic development, educational services, health care and housing.

“The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation is appalled that Senator Blumenthal and Connecticut legislators are questioning lobbying tactics …,” Katherine Sebastian Dring, the Easterns’ chairwoman, writes in the letter to Zinke. “CT used similar tactics in a destructive lobbying campaign to DOI lasting decades to prevent the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation from becoming federally recognized.”

“This ongoing campaign is hideous hypocrisy fueled by prejudice, deceit, unbridled greed and evil,” Sebastian Dring writes.

In 2002, Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs granted preliminary acknowledgment of the Historical Eastern Pequot Tribe, combining two tribal factions — the Eastern Pequot Indians and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Indians. The state and the towns of Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston challenged the action, prompting the Interior Board of Indian Appeals to review it.

Interior reversed the preliminary acknowledgement in 2005.

The Easterns’ letter also faults the state for urging in 2015 that the federal recognition process be changed in ways that hurt the tribe’s chances of ever winning recognition. In 2016, the tribe petitioned Interior in a bid to have its preliminary recognition restored. A final decision on the petition is still pending, Sebastian Dring said Friday.

“We’re still waiting for Zinke to sign off on it,” she said. “We feel it’s critical and essential that the secretary be made aware of everything that happened during the (recognition) process. The truth will bring us justice.”

The Easterns issued a statement last summer in which they decried Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signing of legislation granting the Mashantuckets and the Mohegans the exclusive right build the East Windsor casino. The Easterns said Malloy’s action was “cloaked in hypocrisy and is unconstitutional.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com