STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) – Two Connecticut Indian tribes lost their bids for federal recognition Wednesday, a decision that will bar them from building casinos in a state that is already home to two of the world’s largest Indian gambling resorts, officials said.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs notified the Schaghticoke and Eastern Pequot tribes that their latest petitions for recognition were rejected.

The BIA initially granted recognition to both tribes, but an agency appeal panel overturned both rulings last May. The U.S. Department of the Interior upheld that reversal Wednesday.

Federal officials said the tribes did not meet two of the seven mandatory requirements for federal recognition, including gaps in the tribes’ history.

The Schaghticokes failed to meet the criteria from 1997 to the present because numerous Schaghticoke Indians refused to be members of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, federal officials said.

Schaghticoke Chief Richard Velky said his tribe has been recognized by the state and other tribes since 1736. He said the tribe “more than likely” will appeal the decision to a federal court.

“There is no fact-based reason to overturn our recognition as our genealogy is unquestionable, and our petition is strong,” Velky said.

In the case of the Pequots, officials cited insufficient evidence of political authority or influence for the period 1913 to 1973 and the division of the historical Eastern Pequot into two groups since the 1980s.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a critic of federal recognition procedures, praised the decision.

“This milestone result closes a chapter, hopefully the book, on the fatally flawed recognition efforts,” he said. “It is a historic win for Connecticut because it will bar a third casino and needless, unfounded land claims.”

The Schaghticokes expressed interest in building a casino, possibly in Bridgeport.

The move drew opposition because of severe traffic congestion in the region.

“Blumenthal and I agree on one thing: There is something corrupt here,” Velky said. “You can’t tell me politics isn’t tied into this some place along the line.”

The Eastern Pequots also were weighing an appeal.

“Today’s decision is a disappointment, but it is far from the end of the long struggle to confirm the heritage we know is ours,” Eastern Pequot Chairwoman Marcia Flowers said. “It’s clear to us that a process created to be above politics has been completely derailed by politicians and our people will pay the price for that corruption.”

Blumenthal and other opponents of the federal recognition of the tribes have blasted the BIA’s process, saying it has been corrupted by billion-dollar gambling interests.

The attorney general said no tribe has successfully appealed a rejection in federal court.

Federal recognition gives Indian tribes access to federal funding for education, health care and housing. It also makes tribes eligible to operate casinos and could bolster land claims.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell also welcomed the decision.

“The cloud of these petitions – and the associated land claims – is lifted,” Rell said. “If, however, the tribes insist upon continuing this battle by appealing in the federal courts, we will vigorously fight the appeals.”

Velky said the tribe would continue to pursue claims to about 2,200 acres of mostly undeveloped land near the reservation in Kent, including part of the Appalachian Trail.

The federal agency granted the Kent-based Schaghticokes federal recognition in January 2004, two years after giving similar approval to the Eastern Pequots of North Stonington.

State officials appealed both recognition decisions, arguing that the tribes had substantial gaps in evidence related to their social continuity and political governance. Among the factors that led to the reversal was the BIA’s reliance on state recognition to fill gaps in the tribes’ histories.

Connecticut is already home to two of the world’s largest casinos, both run by federally recognized tribes, the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans.

About six other groups in Connecticut have petitioned for federal recognition, Blumenthal said.


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