GOLDEN HILL TRIBE OF THE PAUGUSSETT INDIAN NATION
The Golden Hill Tribe is a small tribe of about 100 members located in Trumbull, Connecticut, just north of Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Tribe is organized and governed under a traditional form of government. The Traditional Chief of the Tribe is Chief Big Eagle (Aurelius H. Piper, Sr.) The day-to-day governance of the Tribe has been entrusted by Chief Big Eagle to his son, Chief Quiet Hawk (Aurelius H. Piper, Jr.).
The State of Connecticut has recognized and maintained a continuous legal relationship with the Golden Hill Tribe of the Paugussett Nation from the earliest Colonial days to the present. A reservation was first established fro the Paugussett Indians at Golden Hill as early as 1637. Although the lands set aside for the Tribe has shifted from time to time, the Colony and later the State of Connecticut has without interruption held reservation lands and/or funds in trust for the Golden Hill Tribe.
An analysis of this historic and legal relationship dated March 5, 1996, was prepared by the Connecticut General Assembly, Office of Legislative Research, prepatory to recent hearing on the status of the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe by the Judiciary Committee.
Under current law, the State of Connecticut recognizes five tribes -- the Schaghticoke, the Paucatuck (Eastern) Pequot, the Mashantucket (Western) Pequot, the Mohegan and the Golden Hill Paugussett as indigenous tribes that are self-governing entities possessing powers and duties over tribal members and reservations.
Specifically the statute provides --
The state of Connecticut further recognizes that the indigenous tribes, the Schaghticoke, the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot, the Mohegan and the Golden Hill Paugussett are self-governing entities possessing powers and duties over tribal members and reservations. Such powers and duties include the power to : (1) Determine tribal membership and residency on reservation land; (2) determine the tribal form of government; (3) regulate trade and commerce on the reservation; (4) make contacts, and (5) determine tribal leadership in accordance with tribal practice and usage. (General Statues of Connecticut, Revised to Jan. 1, 1991, Vol. 12, Chapter 824, Sec. 47-59a(b)).
Today the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe occupies a 1/4 quarter acre reservation at Trumbull, Connecticut (one of the smallest reservations in the nation) established in 1876 with improvements thereon built with tribal trust funds held by the State, and a second 106 acre reservation in Colchester. The Colchester reservation was established in 1979 on land bought with federal and tribal funds.
From 1763 to 1935 the Colony and then the State appointed a guardian or overseer for the tribe (as well as other tribes within the state). In 1935 the State Park and Forest Commission was authorized to act as overseer of all tribes of Indians residing in Connecticut. In 1941 this authority was placed in the Commissioner of Welfare of the State. In 1961 the Commissioner of Environmental Protection was charged with the care and management of reservation lands, to act with the advice of the Indian Affairs Council. The current General Statutes of Connecticut continue this relationship.
There has been continuous record of State recognition and involvement with the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe. Eighteenth and nineteenth century records reflect on-going activity of overseers and the Government in the management of tribal funds, sales of tribal lands and purchase of replacement lands.
By 1800, the Golden Hill reservation had been reduced to 19 acres. A census taken at that time reported that the Golden Hill tribe consisted of five families totaling 20 persons living on the reservation. However, other members resided off the reservation. In 1802 the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut granted a petition filed by the tribe through its agent, Josiah Lacey, to sell the tribe's land at Golden Hill. The lands were sold at auction and a portion of the funds were invested in real estate in Bridgeport, Milford, and Weston, with interest to accrue to the tribe.
In 1854 tribal land at Turkey Hill Meadow in the Nichols section of Trumbull was sold pursuant to authorization by the State. In 1975 William Sherman, a member of the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe, purchased the 1/4 acre of land which bordered the Tribe's former reservation lands. Six hundred dollars were provided out of tribal funds held by the State from an 1802 sale of land for construction of a house on this property.
In 1876 William Sherman asked that the tribal overseer, Russell Tomlinson, be entrusted to care for the land along with his other responsibilities to the tribe. And in 1886 he deeded the 1/4 acre reservation to the next tribal overseer, Rowland Lacy, "to be held in trust for the tribe by him and his successors." This act recognized the small tract of the tribe's land as an official Connecticut state Indian reservation. (Connecticut Public Acts 1876:102).
In 1939, after the death of George Sherman, the Traditional Chief of the Tribe, the Office of the Attorney General issued an opinion letter that claims filed against the Trumbull Reservation were invalid and the Trumbull reservation lands could not be sold because the property had been taken in trust for the Golden Hill Tribe.
A series of significant modifications to the Connecticut General Statutes concerning the State's Indian tribes began in 1961. In Public Act 61-304, the Golden Hill Tribe is again specifically identified as is the 1/4 acre Tribal reservation in Trumbull. (Public Act No. 61-304).
The next major revision occurred in 1973 when Connecticut Public Act No. 73-660 was enacted and codified as Connecticut General Statutes, Sections 47-63 et seq. Among other things, this legislation established a legislative council called the Connecticut Indian Affairs Council (CIAC). From the time of its first formation, the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe has taken an active part in the CIAC.
In 1976 Governor Ella Grasso certified to the Federal Office of Revenue Sharing that certain of the State's tribes, including the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe, were possessed of a trust land base and had recognized governing bodies exercising substantial governmental functions and were therefore qualified to receive Federal Revenue Sharing Funds. The Governor noted that "[B]ecause of existing statues, tribal government relate directly to the State and ore not an integral part of the local government."
In 1978 the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe received two federal grants and began a search for additional reservation property. Unable to find property it could afford in a location close to its historical homeland, the Tribe instead purchased 118 acres in the Town of Colchester. This land was subsequently taken into trust by the State and is currently recognized as one of the State's official Indian reservations.
In 1982 the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe filed a petition with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, to be recognized as and Indian tribe by the Federal Government. Recognitions of the Tribe's status as an Indian tribe brings with it many Federal benefits, including access to health, education, housing, welfare and economic development programs made available to Indian tribes and their members because of Federally recognized status.
Federally recognized status also extends to such tribes the protection or shield of Federal Indian law which enables tribes to enter into economic development activities free of the constraints of many State laws. One important example of this principle is the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 which acknowledged the judicially declared right of Indian tribes to establish Gaming enterprises free of state law, but brought such operation under the aegis of Federal regulation and/or state-tribal compacts.
After the expenditure of great time and effort and monetary expense on the part of the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe, the Branch of Acknowledgement and Research, Bureau of Indian Affairs, in February of 1994, without warning or an opportunity to be heard, issued a "preliminary finding" denying and dismissing the petition of the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe for Federal recognition. The tribe believes this "preliminary" decision violates the BIA's own Regulations by utilizing criteria that is not included in the BIA Regualtions and by failing to accord due process by providing and opportunity for a hearing prior to the decision. An appeal of this decision has been filed with the Department of the Interior Board of Indian Appeals.
The Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe has filed a number of claims to land within the State of Connecticut, including a claim under the Federal Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790 in the U.S. District Court for Connecticut to 20 acres of land in downtown Bridgeport. This case has been stayed to allow time for the Department of Interior to make a decision on the Tribe's petition for Federal recognition. (Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe of Indians v. Weicker, Docket No. 2:92CV00738 (PCD)). The purpose of this stay is to allow the Federal administrative process to provide guidance to the court on the status of the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe.
A positive determination by Interior on the Tribe's petition would without doubt strengthen the Tribe's case. A negative determination however, will not defeat the Tribe's case. The Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has already held that Federally recognized status is not a prerequisite for maintaining an action under the 1790 Indian Trade and Intercourse Act. (Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe of Indians, et al. v. Weicker, et al., Docket Nos. 93-6227, 93-9059, and 93-9061, decided 1994). Without question the Golden Hill Tribe is currently recognized as a tribe under the laws of the State of Connecticut and has been so recognized by the State since the earliest colonial days.
The Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe has filed a request with the Department of the Interior to reverse its "preliminary" determination that the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe is not eligible for Federal recognition and requested that its Petition for Recognition be placed under Active consideration to facts and information provided by the Tribe.
In the meantime, the Tribe intends to begin active efforts to secure Federal legislation to resolve the claims to lands in Connecticut it has already filed under the 1790 Indian Trade and Intercourse Act, as well as all other claims it may have to lands within its aboriginal territory, including Connecticut and New York.
There is substantial community support -- particularly in the Bridgeport community -- for the efforts of the Tribe to secure Federal recognition and begin its economic development efforts. On February 14, 1996, Chief Quiet Hawk and Joseph P. Ganim, Mayor of Bridgeport, entered into and agreement in principle to resolve the outstanding land claims of the Tribe and permit the opening of a Gaming casino under the auspices of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Legislation to extend Federal recognition to this Tribe and resolve the Tribe's land claims will remove clouds on titles to land that currently exist and will enable the Tribe and the city to move forward in an economic development effort that will benefit the entire community.