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Speaker 1

Page history last edited by PBworks 11 years, 11 months ago

 

Testimony of Mikki Aganstata

70 Wilbur Street

Hartford, CT 06106-3929

February 25, 2008

Re: House Bill 5141

 

In 1790, the young federal Congress passed the first of Indian Trade and Intercourse Acts, demanding that any land cessions or commercial agreements between the Indians and the states be approved by Congress itself. The creators of the federal Constitution made it clear that the federal government, not the various states would control the relationship with Indian tribes. But Connecticut ignored this federal law, and so did Congress.  Connecticut simply continued the colonial practice of appointing overseers who were initially Indian, but soon were white and determined to sell Indian land, obviously considering the land as a valued resource.  No Connecticut funds were allocated to the Overseer. Reservation lands were leased and became privately owned. Additionally, the General Assembly made decisions to sell off these reservation lands to pay any bills associated with either Indians or reservations.

 

In 1935, authority over reservations was transferred to the state’s Park and Forest Commission implicit in the value of the land, not the people.  In 1941, the Welfare Department took control implicit was the message that the people mattered more than land, but strictly for economic assistance and bureaucratic control.  The Welfare Department demanded that Indians petition the commissioner even for holding a meeting on the reservation, or for an overnight stay.  The Welfare Department also refused to furnish contact info between tribal leaders so communities could be sustained.  Building a home involved a tedious approval process and in the event of the homeowner’s death, title reverted to the state and could not be passed to heirs.

 

Four decades ago, Indians in Connecticut raised legislation for a Commission on Indian Affairs.  That first legislation in 1971 passed both houses and went to the Governor for signature.  Then Governor Meskill vetoed the legislation saying that the cost to create a Commission wasn’t warranted for the State’s Indians.  In the following years, dissatisfied Indians were able to compromise with legislators and to create the Connecticut Indian Affairs Council, rather than an autonomous commission.  Administration would go to Department of Environmental Protection. Once again, the message became “The land has value, the Indians do not.”  The compromise bill passed by an overwhelming majority that Governor Meskill had no choice but to sign it in 1973.  However, no funds for the Connecticut Indian Affairs Council (CIAC) were allocated.

 

Thirty years ago, February 1978 I came to Connecticut after accepting the position as the DEP Indian Affairs Coordinator.  I was as the first non-indigenous Indian to accept the post.  I was the first Indian to hold the position.  Much like the paternalistic overseers of the past, the first man to hold the position was not an Indian.  The position was created to act as the liaison between CIAC and DEP.  In addition, I was the state’s coordinator of the Council and effectively acted as liaison for the five tribes.  However the only funds allocated were for the travel expenses of the tribal representatives in order that they could attend CIAC meetings.    In the mid ‘70s, the Connecticut Superior Court had decided that the CIAC was a state agency, implicitly stating CIAC decisions could be appealed to the State Supreme Court.  CIAC, as the Council became known, was an autonomous body of five tribal representatives and three people appointed by the Governor, charged statutorily with reviewing decisions concerning tribal reservations, individual tribal members and tribal councils.  CIAC decisions were reviewable by the Connecticut Superior Courts.   The CIAC spent most of its time and efforts on petitions for tribal membership and legal jurisdiction on the reservations; limited time and many conflicts resulted in decisions that were appealed and removed from Indian authority.  The Council had become a state agency with no funds; decisions on tribal membership made by the Council or the Tribes could be appealed or modified by Connecticut Courts, in direct conflict with the Constitution. CIAC and the tribal representatives were occupied with complaints and squabbles that had no other venue.  The tribal representatives, meanwhile, were focused the intense efforts required in the federal acknowledgement process.  Two tribes were successful in their quests for federal acknowledgement as the three remaining tribes continued to work toward that goal.  All this, plus the CIAC’s accommodation of appeal rulings as well as personnel resources were stretched to the point of burn-out resulting in failure of the CIAC producing a quorum at scheduled meetings.

 

Funding for the State’s Indian policy and the population of Indians deserves comment. According to the latest census counts, the non-indigenous Indian population is greater than population of the Connecticut Indian tribes.  The two federally recognized tribes have a tremendous impact on Connecticut.  Combined the two federally recognized tribes are one of the largest employers in the State.  The tribes have encouraged many Indians to come from the other regions of this country to work and live in Connecticut.  Annually, these two Tribes provide 1-2% of the annual budget into the State coffers.

 

For more than a year, a working group comprised of indigenous and non-indigenous Indians, as well as experts in public policy, history and the sciences have been working to create a Connect Commission on Indian Affairs.  As a representative of this working group, I am your support for Raised Bill 5141.  This bill introduces new language that will modernize and reform the state’s policy on Indian Affairs. Today, another generation of Indians is repeating their request of forty years ago for an autonomous Commission on Indian Affairs. 

 

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