Judge dismisses tribe's lawsuit in land seizure dispute

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut judge has dismissed all remaining claims in a lawsuit in which a Native American tribe argued the state owed it more than $600 million for land allegedly seized from the tribe more than a century ago.

Judge Thomas Moukawsher in Hartford Superior Court ruled Wednesday that the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation doesn't own the mortgages on the land and dismissed the case.

The Kent-based tribe sued in 2016, saying the state seized 2,000 acres (8 square kilometers) from a 2,400-acre (9.7 square kilometers) reservation in western Connecticut between 1801 and 1918 without compensating the tribe. The same judge in 2017 dismissed the tribe's claim that it owned the land but let the mortgages issue proceed.

Richard Velky, chief of the tribal nation, and lawyer Austin Tighe said Thursday that they are asking for a clarification from the judge before deciding what steps to take next, including a possible appeal.

"There definitely will be a next step," Tighe said. "This case is definitely not over."

In the lawsuit, the tribe cited state legislative resolutions from 1736 and 1752.

The 1736 resolution allowed the tribal nation to "continue" on the land until the state Legislature decided otherwise, while the 1752 act granted the tribe the "liberty" to improve and cut wood on the land for as long as the Legislature allowed.

"Telling someone they can stay somewhere, fix it up, and cut wood for themselves on it until the owners says otherwise doesn't sound very much like the owner is giving that person the land," Moukawsher wrote in the December 2017 ruling.

The judge wrote in Wednesday's ruling that he dismissed the tribe's claims about owning the mortgages for similar reasons.

"There is no express grant to the tribe of the ownership of the mortgages, and without one the tribe has no property right it can allege was wrongly taken from it," he wrote.

The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation won federal recognition as a tribe in 2004 from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, but an agency appeals panel overturned the ruling in 2005, citing substantial gaps in historical evidence about its social continuity and political governance.

The tribe accused politicians, lobbyists and advocacy groups of tainting the process for recognition, which allows tribes to qualify for federal aid programs and is a first step toward potentially opening a casino.

Officials in Connecticut granted the reservation to the tribe in 1736.

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