A petition calling on Penn to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a holiday has garnered over 1,000 signatures from students, faculty, and staff.
Natives at Penn, a student organization dedicated to increasing awareness of Native culture and history on campus, created the petition on Sept. 1 in hopes that adding the holiday to Penn’s list of secular and religious holidays observed during the academic calendar will promote visibility of Indigenous students on campus. The list features holidays associated with the cancellation of class and those that are not and simply recognized by the University.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day takes place on Oct. 12 to honor Native American peoples’ resiliency in the face of violence by European explorers.”The Native community was the first community here and remains here today,” the petition reads. “It is necessary to acknowledge this history and create change in order to honor and respect Native peoples both past and present.”
The 2020-21 Secular & Religious Holidays list posted on The Office of Chaplain & The Spiritual and Religious Life Center website currently includes religious holidays such as Yom Kippur and Good Friday as well as secular holidays such as Memorial Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As a footnote, the University acknowledges that there are other holidays of importance that do not appear on the list.
Wharton sophomore and Natives at Penn member Lauren McDonald said the rise in racial justice movements, such as the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, inspired her to start the petition. In addition to increasing awareness of the holiday, the petition aims to honor Lenape people, the tribe whose land Penn resides on, she said.
While Penn gives land acknowledgements — formal statements that recognize the Lenape tribe’s right to the land — at events such as Commencement and Convocation, Natives at Penn is also calling upon the University to expand its support for Indigenous students by increasing funding for Indigenous student programming and providing a space for them in ARCH as a cultural center.
“You shouldn’t be giving land acknowledgements if that’s all that you’re doing,” College senior and Natives at Penn Undergraduate Chair Connor Beard said. “You need to also be actively looking for other ways to help the Indigenous and Native communities wherever you’re located.
”McDonald said Natives at Penn hopes to occupy a physical space on campus and collaborate with La Casa Latina, Makuu: The Black Cultural Center, and Pan-Asian American Community House in the future to increase awareness of the Indigenous culture and support students of color on campus.
“Native people generally have such a strong attachment to physical locations,” Beard said. “[Having a space on campus] would help us to continue to build our community.”
Beard said that many Indigenous students do not feel visible on campus due to the lack of awareness of Indigenous culture and history, and hopes the petition will lead to increased University support for Indigenous students.
“I’ve met plenty of people at Penn who have never even heard of the concept of Native Americans,” Beard said, adding that many students have a misconception that Indigenous people only live on reservations.
Second-year Penn Law student and Natives at Penn Graduate Chair Brooke Parmalee believes that one of the main reasons why Indigenous students do not feel visible on campus is that they are not “big in numbers,” noting that she is one of only three Indigenous students at Penn Law.
Mamta Accapadi, the new Vice Provost for University Life as of Aug. 17, reached out to Natives at Penn a couple weeks ago to express her support for the group’s mission and apologize for the lack of support currently given to Indigenous students by the University, Parmalee said.
Parmalee added that Natives at Penn hopes Accapadi will advocate for the group when it sends the petition to President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett. McDonald said the group will send the petition to the administrators after it gathers 1,500 signatures.
McDonald said she is grateful for the support the petition has received from a number of student organizations such as Penn Community for Justice, as well as from faculty and staff of the School of Veterinary Medicine and the LGBT Center.
College senior and PCJ member Kara Cloud said PCJ endorsed the petition because it aligns with the organization’s mission of recognizing Penn’s racist history and how it affects students on campus.
“As an institution that has benefited off the backs of Indigenous people and literally occupies their land illegally, the least we can do is offer a day of national recognition that will spur action and conversation,” Cloud said.
“In 2004, the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, after decades of hard work, gained federal recognition. We were the third tribe in the state to do so, along with the Mashantucket and Mohegan tribes. This recognition would have given the Schaghticoke the same rights as the Mashantucket and Mohegan tribes, including gaming rights and the same right to build a casino…….”
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UConn Student and Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Member Brooke Parmalee is on a mission advocated for change on Columbus Day. Brooke along with The Native American Cultural Programs will host events every day this week to educate their peers on Native Americans. They also started a petition in hopes that the university will recognize Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day in the future.
Judge Weighs Dismissal of Schaghticoke’s $610M Lawsuit Against State
The state made sovereign immunity and a lack of standing due to a dispute between two factions within the Schaghticoke its cornerstone argument for dismissal. The nation is suing the state saying it’s owed damages for land taken from its northwestern Connecticut reservation beginning more than two centuries ago.
The nation claims the state seized 2,000 acres of its 2,400-acre reservation without proper payment despite promises to do so.
Both sides agreed prior to Thursday’s hearing in Hartford Superior Court that lack of standing would be the only topic discussed.
Assistant Attorney General Rob Deichert repeatedly fielded questions from Judge Thomas Moukawsher about whether the dispute between the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation and the competing government, the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe, was “substantial.”
“The fact that there is a dispute can’t be enough,” the judge said. “Don’t I have to find there is a substantial dispute?”
Deichert said, “Our position is clear: There is a leadership dispute and it has been substantial for decades.”
The Schaghticoke split in two factions in 1986: the tribe and the nation. Lawsuits filed since the split have acknowledged the two factions, which Deichert claims is part of the ongoing “substantial” dispute.
The nation and the tribe also have separate tribal constitutions. Richard Velky, who was in court Thursday, was elected chief for life for the nation in 1987. Alan Russell is chief of the tribe and is not a party to the current lawsuit.
Deichert also told the court a favorable decision for the nation could preclude other factions “from bringing claims later. We know there are other factions out there.”
Deichert brought up the Connecticut Appellate Court case of Schaghticoke Indian Tribe v. Rost to bolster the state’s claim. The 2012 case dealt with the eviction of Michael Rost from Schaghticoke land, and involved the dispute over tribal leadership.
Austin Tighe, representing the nation, insisted his client has standing.
“We have a tribal council that passed a resolution and at least six members brought the lawsuit on behalf of the tribe.”
Tighe, of counsel for the Texas-based law firm Nix, Patterson & Roach, told the courtroom the state is looking for a way out of the lawsuit.
After the hearing, Tighe said, “This entire idea that there is a leadership dispute is a fiction created by the state only after they were sued for $610 million.”
Tighe declined to comment further. Deichert declined to comment afterward.
The first court action in a lawsuit filed a year ago by the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation against the State of Connecticut will take place this month. The complaint claims the State of Connecticut owes the tribe more than $610 million in mismanaged land use trust funds. A pretrial evidentiary hearing will be held at Connecticut Superior Court in Hartford on September 14 on the state’s motion to dismiss the case.
ROBERT STORACE, The Connecticut Law Tribune
When noted Texas attorney Austin Tighe was sought to represent the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation in the tribe’s $610 million lawsuit against Connecticut, he said he jumped at the opportunity.
As with other cases he’s taken on behalf of Native American tribes seeking redress against the government, Tighe, 51, said he believes the case has clear merit. “I was attracted to this case based on three facts,” he said. “No. 1, the state took the Schaghticokes’ land. No. 2, the state promised to pay for that land and broke that promise; and No. 3, the U.S. Constitution and the Connecticut Constitution require the payment of fair compensation for taking of land.”
The Schaghticokes claim the state seized 2,000 of the tribe’s 2,400 acres of land in Western Connecticut from 1801 to 1918 without proper payment, and despite promises of compensation. For Tighe, issues related to the plight of Native Americans are something he holds close to his heart.
“There was a real sense of injustice that was visited upon these tribes over a long period of time,” Tighe said. “In all of the cases in which I represent the tribes, the common thread is the government’s failure to deliver on its promises to some of the nation’s first families.”
Tighe said he has always had an interest in American Indian law but “my focus on representing tribal interests has accelerated in the past three to four years.”
Later this month, Tighe will be in Connecticut to personally argue against the state’s contention that the Hartford Superior Court does not have jurisdiction to hear the tribe’s claims. “The court does have jurisdiction to hear our claims,” he said. “They are true. The state promised to pay for the land and never did. These are all procedural [issues] and we look forward to addressing them and moving the case forward to trial.”
In essence, Tighe said, the state has no answer as to why the tribe’s land was taken over the course of more than a century. He said the state is trying to throw monkey wrenches into what he believes is a solid case.
After meeting several times with Schaghticoke Chief Richard Velky, Tighe said he was “very impressed with their knowledge and very impressed with their passion. A strong relationship with the client is key for me. Because I only take cases on a contingency fee basis, I am investing in my clients like they are investing in me which results in a real sense of common purpose.”
Former U.S. Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, senior counsel for Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman in New York City, is also defending the tribe. Tighe said partnering with Lieberman is a joy.
“Joe is just like you see him on TV or in the well of the Senate,” Tighe said. “He is very thoughtful, honorable and straightforward. He brings a real sense of perspective on every issue that comes up.”
Of the half-dozen tribal cases Tighe has handled, two were resolved. One is confidential, and another out of Oklahoma, in which he represented the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes, was settled for $186 million in 2015. “We were alleging the government failed to properly protect tribal interests in the sale of about 1.3 million acres of tribal timberland between 1908 and 1940,” he said.
The more they see, the more Tighe’s contemporaries say he is an expert at distilling facts and getting to the central point of a case. After that, he fights like heck to win. Tighe on your side in a legal matter “is like having your own Doberman,” some say.
“He tries to communicate, both in writing and orally, in a brief and succinct manner — a very understandable manner,” said Jim Reed, a founding partner of Gray, Reed & McGraw in Houston. “He is not the only attorney who does that, but a lot of lawyers do not. Many times, judges get communication styles that are hard to understand. His is not.”
Tighe’s admirers say he also puts his all into each case, and works at a pace many lawyers find hard to match. “It’s more than just going the extra mile. I doubt he even sleeps, because he is going at it all the time,” said Brian Kabateck, founding and managing partner of Kabateck Brown Kellner in Los Angeles.
Kabateck worked with Tighe representing the NAACP in a landmark predatory lending lawsuit against major banks. “The guy would constantly be calling, emailing and talking to try to set up meetings at all hours of the day. He was and is extremely aggressive. I always want to work with someone who works at least as hard as I do, and that is Austin.”
Tighe has worked for several firms in Texas and spent a brief stint in Chicago. He has worked for Nix, Patterson & Roach in Austin, Texas, since August 2015, and has represented plaintiffs for the firm in consumer class actions, represented Fortune 100 companies, policyholder actions against insurance companies, commercial litigation, and personal injury, among other cases. One case he is particularly proud of is leading a class action on behalf of retired NFL players against EA Sports. The case, which has been going on for years with hopes to finalize later this year, involves allegations that EA used the likenesses of about 2,600 retired players in its Madden football games. “We are seeking compensation for the players,” Tighe said. “EA has generated a giant amount of profit. We are looking at potentially tens of millions of dollars.”
Tighe said he got hooked on becoming a lawyer after the 9th grade, when he went to a big New York City law firm where a friend’s father worked. “I got to see how lawyers work for a few days. One lawyer even let me watch a hearing in the Eastern District of Manhattan. After that, I was hooked. I rode the train back to Summit [in New Jersey] and said to myself that I knew what I wanted to do.”
Part of that passion has included seeing the law as a noble profession, Tighe said. “It does a tremendous amount of good,” Tighe said, adding, “There is a lot of talk in how important the amendments are to the Constitution. There is often a lot of talk about the First and Second Amendments. But, people who really focus on those amendments will tell you that all of the amendments were designed to be held in equal esteem, and that would include the Seventh Amendment.”
But the amendment that provides for a right to trial by jury, Tighe noted, is under attack “by people who think arbitration should take the place of right to jury trial and by various political interests. It’s a more noble profession — now more than ever, maybe. We, as plaintiffs attorneys, defend and foster citizen rights under the Seventh Amendment.”
On Wednesday, the Kent-based Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, which wants to open its own casino, announced it “will have no alternative” but to sue the state if the legislation allowing the two federally recognized tribes to open the $200 million-to-$300 million East Windsor facility prevails.
A bus with dozens of tribe members arrived at the Legislative Office Building at 10:30 am on May 9th to ask lawmakers to seek a competitive and open process if the state is to seek commercial gaming. We spoke to the media and legislators about why an open process is so important, and asked an important question:
Why not us?
HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH)– The Speaker of the Connecticut House says he is increasing the odds that an expansion of casino gambling will pass this year. The prediction comes in the aftermath of greater red ink, and as a third Native American Tribe says they can increase the stakes for the state.
The third tribe is the state recognized Schaghticokes. You will recall they got federal recognition 13 years ago, only to have the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs reverse their ruling in the aftermath of massive public and political pressure here in Connecticut. But the Schaghticokes say they still have friends in the gambling industry that will bankroll them.
Lead by tribal chairman Richard Velky, members of the Kent based Scahghticoke Tribe invaded the Capitol complex today, urging that they be allowed to compete for a third gambling casino that they would like to establish southwest of New Haven to take advantage of what all parties agree is the potentially lucrative metropolitan New York City area.
“Anywhere in Fairfield County, preferably for me, probably be Bridgeport. We have always show an interest in Bridgeport. Bridgeport has always shown an interest in the Schaghticoke,” said Velky.
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