A change to the criteria by which the federal government recognizes Native American tribes, which gives tribes authority to open casinos and receive education and health benefits, would "devastate" Connecticut because it could result in tribal land claims to developed areas of the state, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wrote in a letter to President Obama this week.
The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs is considering changes that would mean "near automatic acknowledgement" for reservations existing since 1934 or earlier.
Current rules require that tribes prove political or social continuity throughout a group's existence since 1789.
Malloy wants the bureau to eliminate from its proposal the clause that could mean recognition for 80-year-old tribes, and to not allow tribes that have been denied already to reapply.
Connecticut, uniquely, is home to three of the five tribes in the entire country that would presumably be helped by the change, according to Malloy. And they are the only tribes of the five who have been officially denied federal recognition.
The Eastern Pequots in the eastern part of the state, and the Golden Hill Paugussetts and Schaghticokes in the western part have been fighting for federal status for years.
Attempts have ultimately failed because they've failed to prove, under the current rules, political or social continuity.
Malloy wrote that the new rules would allow the tribes to retry their case, which they are not allowed to do under current rules, and could result in them making land claims to "vast areas of fully developed land" in Connecticut, and to push for casino approvals.
The governor and other state officials have voiced similar concerns since last year, when the bureau began considering the changes.