U.S. Withholds Recognition As a Tribe From Paugussetts

New York Times, May 25, 1995, by George Judson.

STAMFORD, Conn., May 24 - The Golden Hill Paugussetts, who have claimed much of Fairfield County as ancestral lands, have failed to qualify for Federal recognition as a tribe, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has ruled.

Paugussetts' application for Federal recognition since 1993, allows them to offer more evidence of their genealogy. But if upheld, it would block their efforts to open a casino in Connecticut and could cripple lawsuits in which they are claiming downtown Bridgeport and other areas as their tribal land.

A lawyer for the Paugussetts, Bernard Wishnia, said they would meet with Bureau of Indian Affairs officials and offer further documentation of their common ancestor, William Sherman, who they contend established a Paugussett reservation in Trumbull in 1886.

"We believe there is more than sufficient evidence to document that William Sherman was who he was, and was in fact the chief of the tribe," Mr. Wishnia said.

According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs finding released today, however, Mr. Sherman, the one common ancestor claimed by Paugussetts, "has not been documented conclusively to have Indian ancestry."

No records exist that identify Mr. Sherman as an Indian, bureau researchers said, even though Federal census records, his records as a seaman and other documents of the time noted Indian ancestry when it was known. There is no evidence that he associated with Indians, the researchers said. He owned land, which Indians could not do in the 1800's without a special act by the state legislature. The birth records of his children identify him variously as white, black, colored or Negro.

Equally important, the decision signed by the Assistant United States Secretary for Indian Affairs, Ada E. Deer, concluded, the Paugussetts have not met the requirement that they prove descent from more than one Indian, to establish "ancestry as a tribe, not simply Indian ancestry."

The decision also said that the Paugussetts had not proved that the tribe had existed continuously since its first contact with English colonists in the 1650's, another requirement for Federal recognition.

As early as 1765, the bureau's researchers said, only one Paugussett family was living on land set aside for the tribe, "suggesting that the tribal entity had dissolved." That housing and other aid provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, more recently they have said their goal was to open a casino, as permitted under the Federal Indian Gaming Act of 1988.

An investment group interested in backing a casino has financially supported both the Paugussetts' application for recognition and its landclaim lawsuits, which were filed in part to pressure state officials into pleading the Paugussetts' case before the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Paugussetts' application for recognition was also supported by Waterbury city officials, who have signed an agreement with the Paugussetts to provide land for a casino if they are certified as a tribe. The Paugussetts were supported in their application by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The Paugussetts are black and have said opposition to them is based in part on racial prejudice.

The state, however, has vigorously fought the land suits in Federal and state courts, saying the Paugussetts were trying to blackmail homeowners and businesses by challenging the titles to their property.


Document URL: http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/paugussetts.html
Last modified: Wednesday, 18-Jul-2007 16:27:59 EDT