Tribes Win Big In Fight To Regain Land

Golden Hill Paugussett tribe's Chief Quiet Hawk Aurelius H. Piper, Jr., center, signs a contract with Bridgeport City Council members at City Hall, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2002, in Bridgeport Conn. The city signed the contract with the tribe, which calls for helping find 200 acres for a casino in exchange for the tribe handing over some gambling revenue and dropping land claims. But before the tribe can open a casino, it must win recognition from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. CBS/AP

Indian tribes across the country are fighting for recognition from the federal government and to regain land they say was illegally taken from them in Colonial times and, as CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports, they're winning big.

It's already happening in Connecticut, which already has two huge casinos owned by tribes and is besieged by tribal claims from nine other groups.

"This system is driven by money," says Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. "Not by the legitimate claims of native Americans."

There are only about 350 Golden Hill Paugussett Indians on two small reservations in Connecticut. They are eyeing 750,000 acres of the state. The tribal chief wouldn't talk to us, but the marketing chief did.

"It represents about 25 percent of the land mass of the state of Connecticut," says Golden Hill Paugussett Marketing Chief Bill McBride.

And it includes towns like Westport and Greenwich. The Indians say centuries before this was Martha Stewart's and Paul Newman's neighborhood it belonged to them.

If the Golden Hill Paugussetts decide to file a land claim it could have a huge impact on the hugely wealthy people here. Anyone who decided to sell their mansion or refinance their estate could be blocked, if the banks find out this is Indian land.

"These kinds of threats, very plainly, are an effort to hold hostage innocent property owners in an attempt to bring pressure to bear on elected officials," says Blumenthal.

"You can couch it any way you want," says McBride. "It's reality."

The truth is, the Paugussetts don't really want this land.

What they want from Connecticut is "300 contiguous acres in downtown Bridgeport," says McBride.

Part of downtown Bridgeport, a decaying town on I-95, the main road between New York and Boston which makes it ideal for a Paugussett project. Just recently the city agreed to give the Paugussetts land if the tribe is recognized by the federal government and drops other land claims.

"What do they want to do with the 300 acres?

"That would be primarily where the casino would go," says McBride.

If the deal goes through it would be another victory for Native Americans and could encourage tribes in Illinois, Oklahoma and other states, where people may have to worry as Indian tribes get recognized that their neighborhoods may become unrecognizable.
  • Jaime Holguin

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