Ronald A. Roberts of Granville, N.Y., who has called himself Sachem Golden Eagle of the Western Mohegans, awaits sentencing June 17 after pleading guilty to federal charges of perjury and submitting false documents in proceedings asking for recognition as an Indian tribe. Last year Mr. Roberts “sued New York State, seeking millions in rent over the last 200 years on 900,000 acres of public land throughout the Hudson Valley, including land around the Capitol. In another suit, in 1999 he had tried to stop the development of a state park on Schodack Island in the Hudson River near Albany, asserting that it was the ancestral burial grounds of his people. Judges eventually threw out both suits.” According to prosecutors, Roberts advanced his claims to represent a surviving Indian tribe by submitting “an altered death certificate for his grandfather, Arthur E. Smith, on which the cursive ‘W’ for white on the form had been changed to ‘Indian.’ But prosecutors pointed out that it was not much of a forgery, since the clumsy alteration was made with a ballpoint pen, invented after the grandfather’s death.” Roberts “also gave the federal government a doctored version of the 1845 census of Indians in New York, in which someone had conveniently inserted his great-grandfather’s name into a list of Indian household heads.” (James C. McKinley Jr., “Man With Flair for Reinventing Himself Goes a Step Too Far”, New York Times, Jun. 3; Hallie Arnold, “Ex-leader admits lying on tribal application”, Kingston Daily Freeman, Feb. 10). For more on the curious, high-stakes legal world of tribal recognition, casinos and land claims, see May 17, Feb. 9 and links from there.
Yesterday’s New York Post published my favorable review of Brett Fromson’s book Hitting the Jackpot: The Inside Story of the Richest Indian Tribe in History about the machinations that resulted in the rise of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe in Connecticut and its fabulously successful casino, Foxwoods. The story is one replete with bald impostures facilitated by lawyers who, in a fine career arc, started out in the ever-so-idealistic legal services movement and gradually turned into well-compensated casino promoters, all on behalf of a crew of putative tribe members who “are about as authentically Indian as Camilla Parker Bowles.” (Walter Olson, “Betting on the Pequots”, May 16).
“The Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma filed a claim Wednesday for 27 million acres given to the tribes in a 19th century treaty but said they would settle for 500 acres to build a casino in a symbolic return to Colorado. The petition, filed with the Department of Interior, covers northeastern Colorado and about 40 percent of the state.” And just like many Eastern tribes or would-be tribes, they’ve got an investor: “Steve Hillard, a Longmont venture capitalist who pulled together investors for the plan, dubbed the ‘Homecoming Project,’ said the unresolved settlement claims could tie up land and water sales in northeastern Colorado until an agreement is reached. Hillard said similar claims in Hawaii, New York, South Carolina and Texas have slowed real estate sales.” (Deborah Frazier, “Indians file huge land claim”, Rocky Mountain News, Apr. 15). For more on Indian land claim blackmail, see Feb. 9 and Nov. 2-4, 2001, among many others.
“The scientific community should be allowed to study the 9,000-year-old human bones known as Kennewick Man, a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled [last week], rejecting an appeal by several tribes claiming kinship and seeking to rebury the remains.” The court found little evidence of either a genetic or a cultural link between the prehistoric corpse and present-day Indian tribes. (Tom Paulson, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Feb. 5) (see Sept. 27-28, 2000; Oct. 11, 1999). See “In our view: Kennewick Man” (editorial), The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.), Feb. 8; Moira Breen; Lex Communis; Brian Doherty, Reason “Hit and Run”, Feb. 12; Sarah Graham, “Scientists Win Latest Ruling in Kennewick Man Case”, Scientific American, Feb. 6. More: Aug. 2.
The latest land claim assertion, by the Delaware Nation, is openly meant to be traded off for casino rights. The law firm of Cozen & O’Connor is representing the tribe in the action, which targets not only crayon-maker Binney & Smith but 19 hapless homeowners as well as a couple of small businesses and several layers of Pennsylvania government. We wrote about Indian land claim litigation a year and a half ago. (Shannon P. Duffy, “Indian Tribe Sues Over Pennsylvania Land”, The Legal Intelligencer, Jan. 20). Update: court dismissed case in late 2004 (PDF).