A Connecticut Tribe Fights for Recognition, and a Piece of the Casino Industry

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Richard L. Velky, the chief of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, in the tribe’s offices in Derby, Conn. “Whether Connecticut likes it or not, we are one of the state’s first families and we will continue to be,” he said. Credit Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

In Connecticut, two Indian tribes, the Mohegans and the Mashantucket Pequots, years ago built shiny monuments to American capitalism in the form of their casinos, which have made them extraordinarily wealthy.

Then there are the Schaghticokes. They would also like a piece of the lucrative casino industry. Instead, the tribe owns three modest houses on 400 acres of tribal land that almost cannot be built upon because it slopes so steeply, along the state’s western edge.

The contrast in the tribes’ fortunes underscores a phenomenon in the world of contemporary Native American politics: the sharp divisions that prevail between the tribes that have grasped the brass ring of federal recognition and the resulting largess, and those, like the Schaghticokes, that have fallen short.

Richard L. Velky, the chief of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, likes to point out that “Connecticut” means “long tribal river.” The name, he says, is both apt and ironic — apt because of the prolonged, relentless campaign the tribe has waged for federal recognition; ironic because the state, which recognized the tribe in 1736, has thwarted that effort at every turn.

Now Connecticut is exploring the possibility of opening a third casino, to compete with one planned across the border in Springfield, Mass. And once again, the state is working to keep the Schaghticokes (pronounced SCAT-uh-cokes) out of the action, granting only the Mohegans and Pequots the right to pursue another casino — even though this one, in the Hartford area, would not be on an Indian reservation.

“We’ve been here 300 years,” Mr. Velky said in an interview at the tribal offices in Derby, Conn. “Whether Connecticut likes it or not, we are one of the state’s first families, and we will continue to be.”

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