New leader says tribe still wants recognition
Eastern Pequots chairman says no court appeal right now of federal ruling
By Brian Hallenbeck Published on 8/8/2009
Jim Cunha, newly elected chairman of the North Stonington-based Eastern Pequot Tribe, said Friday the tribe remains focused on gaining federal recognition, a status that seemed within its grasp several years ago.
Cunha acknowledged, however, that the tribe has no source of income and has yet to pursue a court appeal of the U.S. Department of the Interior's 2005 reversal of a decision granting the tribe recognition. In 2002, the department's Bureau of Indian Affairs, acting on separate applications filed by the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots and the Eastern Pequots, recognized them as a single tribe, the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation.
The reversal came after state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and the towns of Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston appealed the BIA decision.
”We're keeping all our options open as far as federal recognition goes,” Cunha, a digital media specialist for The Day Publishing Co., said in an interview. He said the tribe is “monitoring other situations,” including that of the Schagticokes, the Kent-based tribe that also had a favorable recognition decision overturned. The Schagticokes have appealed the reversal in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Cunha, 47, was two years into a three-year term as vice chairman of the unified Eastern Pequots' tribal council when he was elected July 25 to a three-year term as council chairman. A former chief of the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots, Cunha defeated Kathy Sebastian-Dring, a former council member. In a 2007 election, he ousted Mark Sebastian, the Eastern Pequots' former longtime vice chairman.
About 23 percent of the tribal membership's eligible voters cast ballots, Cunha said.
The more than 1,100 members of the tribe - including about 150 former Paucatuck Eastern Pequots and 1,000 former Eastern Pequots - no longer think of themselves as belonging to one “faction” or another, Cunha said.
”We don't refer to factions anymore,” said Cunha, who lived on the tribe's 225-acre reservation up until 2005.
As chairman, he said he will “try to meet the tribe's goals” and “move the tribe forward.” He did not elaborate.
Asked if the tribe would pursue a casino development if it gained federal recognition, Cunha said, “In this economy, recognition is the first thing. We're not thinking beyond that.”
Before the separate tribes united, both had deals with financial backers eager to build a casino. At one point, Donald Trump backed the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots while Eastern Capital, whose principals included Southport developer David Rosow, supported the former Eastern Pequots.
In addition to Cunha, Brian Geer and Angie Oliver also were elected July 25 to the Eastern Pequots' 12-member tribal council. Other council members are: Mary Sebastian; Marcia Flowers, former chairwoman of the Eastern Pequots; Agnes Cunha, Jim's mother, who was chairman of the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots for 27 years; Lynn Powers, recording secretary; Dennis Jenkins; Val Gambrell, comptroller; Brenda Geer, corresponding secretary; Joe Perry and Tom Perry.