Golden Hill Paugussett Indian Nation

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Golden Hill Paugussett Indian Nation
Total population

Enrolled members:

100 [1]
Regions with significant populations
 United States Connecticut
English, formerly Paugussett
Related ethnic groups
Mashantucket Pequot, Mohegan

The Golden Hill Paugussett are a state-recognized tribe in Connecticut who are descendants of the historic Paugussett (also Paugusset) Nation of Native Americans; they historically occupied much of western Connecticut prior to the arrival of European colonists.[2][3] They are among the five tribes recognized by the state.[2] They have not succeeded in gaining federal recognition.[4]

Present day[edit]

The 100-member tribe lives in Colchester, Connecticut, where it has a 106-acre (0.43 km2) reservation.[1] It also has a 14-acre (0.0010 km2)[5] reserve in the Nichols section of Trumbull, Connecticut. The Nichols reservation is considered to be the oldest continuing reservation in Connecticut and the smallest in the US.

In 2009, a state court dismissed a challenge to the tribe's status as Indians, refusing to eject members of the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe and their chief from reservations in Trumbull and Colchester.[6]


Falls Mountain gorge on the Housatonic River, site of a seventeenth century Paugussett fishing village/site.[7]

While the history of the Paugussett Nation began before the European encounter, the early written records are European accounts. They are one of the numerous Algonquian-speaking nations who emerged in the coastal areas of the Atlantic. Historically, they occupied a region from present-day Norwalk to New Haven, and from Long Island Sound inland for as far as they could navigate by canoe up the Housatonic and Naugatuck rivers.

The tribe was made up of four primary sub-groups, the Paugussett Proper in what is present-day Milford, Derby and Shelton; the Pequonnock, along the coast; the Pootatuck in Newtown, Woodbury and Southbury; and the Weantinock in New Milford. They had a farming and fishing culture. The women cultivated varieties of staple crops: corn, beans, and squash, and tobacco, which was used for ritual purposes. The men fished in both fresh and saltwater. The size of midden shell heaps along the coast and the amount of cleared land attested to both a long period of occupation and a high degree of social organization among the people.[8]

Encroachment by settlers[edit]

While the Paugusset did not have early direct contact with Europeans, they came in contact with other Native Americans who did, and were exposed to the smallpox epidemic in 1633—35, which caused many deaths. They learned of the English and allies war against the Pequots in 1637, with the defeat of that nation. English settlers first arrived in Paugussett lands in 1638—39 after establishing settlements in New Haven, Guilford, Milford, Stratford and Fairfield.[9]

Golden Hill and Turkey Hill[edit]

Within a few years, the Paugussett had been divested by the colonists of the vast majority of their lands and left with several small reservations, including Golden Hill, site of a spring sacred to them, in present-day Bridgeport, and Turkey Hill in present-day Derby. In 1802, the state-appointed tribal overseer sold Golden Hill. The last of Turkey Hill was also sold by the state in 1826 for the people's "own benefit".[10]

Ethiope or Little Liberia[edit]

According to the historian Charles Brilvitch, in the early 19th century, some Paugussetts, including Joel Freeman from Derby relocated to Bridgeport, settling in the city's south end in an area that became known as Ethiope. With a population referred to in records as "colored", it included residents who identified as Paugusset (like many other Native Americans in the East, they may have been multi-racial by that time but identified as Indian.) Freeman was followed by two of his sisters, whose houses built in 1848 have been nominated by the city historian for the National Register of Historic Places. The Paugusset gradually intermarried with neighbors. The village included two churches, a Masonic lodge, hotel, school and other institutions. In the United States, Native Americans' cultural identity was denied for long periods of time because of their intermarriage with other ethnic groups. Many European Americans classified persons with any African ancestry as African American, regardless of their own identification. This historical background contributed to the Bureau of Indian Affairs disputing the tribe's assertion that they maintained Paugusset community after intermarriage in Ethiope.[11][4]

Challenge over cigarette sales[edit]

In 1993 the tribe made national headlines when it opened a tax-free cigarette shop on the Colchester reservation, asserting its sovereignty in selling the product without taking taxes. An armed standoff with state police ensued that ended without violence when Chief Moon Face Bear (Kenneth Piper) agreed to close the shop.[12] In the resulting state court case, the court ruled in State v. Piper, No. CR21-57349 (May 3, 1996), that the tribe did not have exemption from the state requirement to collect taxes on sales of cigarettes.[2]

Quest for federal recognition[edit]

In a final determination in 1996, the Bureau of Indian Affairs denied recognition to the Golden Hill Paugussett. They appealed under BIA provisions and submitted additional historic and genealogical documentation.[4][13]

Most recently, they were denied federal recognition in 2004.[4][14] Lack of federal recognition has stymied their economic development plans because their small reservations are limited in use. Since the legislative changes that have enabled federally recognized tribes to establish gambling casinos on their lands, some tribes have gained significant revenue for welfare, education and development from gambling revenues, including two in Connecticut.[14]

State opposition to federal recognition[edit]

While the state has gained considerable revenues from its share of income generated by the two major established casino resorts, Connecticut officials have been opposed to recognition of additional tribes and addition of gambling sites in the state. State officials lobbied the BIA in opposition to recognition of the Golden Hill Paugussett.[13]

The governor, Congressional delegation and private property owners later mounted challenges and conducted lobbying to reverse the federal recognition granted to the Eastern Pequot Nation in 2002, and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation in 2004. They succeeded in gaining a BIA review of both cases; after a change in administrations, recognition of both tribes was revoked in 2005, actions without precedent.[15]

Land rights claims[edit]

Together with providing documentation and working to regain tribal status, the Paugusset filed land rights claims against the state, saying the state did not have the authority to manage or sell land on their behalf. Lack of federal recognition has deprived them of automatic standing in such suits.

Led by Chief Big Eagle, they originally had claimed legal rights to 700,000 acres (2,800 km2) of land running from Orange/Woodbridge in New Haven County though Fairfield County to Greenwich and extending North into Eastern Litchfield County up to the Massachusetts border, though these large claims have since been dropped.[1][16]

In 1992, they filed a lawsuit claiming 80 acres in Bridgeport, the site of Golden Hill, which the state had sold in 1802, as well as land in Trumbull and Orange. In 1993, the federal District Court judge Peter Dorsey concluded that Connecticut had violated the 1790 Non-Intercourse Act by selling Indian lands without the approval of the federal government. But he dismissed the case, pending resolution of the BIA's review of their petition for federal recognition. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the dismissal. Citing other cases, it noted that criteria for an Indian group's pursuit of land claims were not necessarily the same as for federal recognition.[13]

In 2006, a federal district court judge dismissed the Golden Hill Paugussett's 14-year-old lawsuit claiming lands in Orange, Trumbull and Bridgeport, based on the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs' rejection of the tribe's petition for federal recognition.[17] The Golden Hill Paugusset had contended that, since they were a Native American nation, the state did not have the authority to deal with them on land sales or dispose of their land. Since the United States was formed, the federal government had required its approval of any sale of Indian lands.

Tribal leaders[edit]

  • Aurelius H. Piper, Sr. ( - 2008), Chief Big Eagle - hereditary chief, died at age 92 in Trumbull.[18] Beginning in the late 20th century, he encouraged revival of the Paugusset language. "It is a sacred obligation," says the Golden Hill Paugussett Chief, Big Eagle. "Indian people must keep their languages alive. If the language is not spoken, it must be made to live again."[19]
  • Aurelius H. Piper, Jr. (Chief Quiet Hawk); appointed by his father, Big Eagle, to succeed him as Chief of Chiefs.[6][17]
  • Shoran Piper-Baez (Clan Mother White Fawn)[20]


  1. ^ a b c "Aurelius Piper, chief of Connecticut tribe". Associated Press (Boston Globe). 2008-08-06. Retrieved 2010-08-07. 
  2. ^ a b c Christopher Reinhart (2002-02-07). "Effect of State Recognition of an Indian Tribe". State of Connecticut. Retrieved 2010-08-06. "Connecticut statutes recognize five tribes: (1) Golden Hill Paugussett, (2) Mashantucket Pequot, (3) Mohegan, (4) Eastern Pequot, and (5) Schaghticoke tribe." 
  3. ^ Brilvitch 2007, pp. 11--12.
  4. ^ a b c d Bureau of Indian Affairs (2004-06-21). "Final Determination Against Federal Acknowledgement of the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe". Federal Register. United States. pp. 34388–34393. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  5. ^ Eisner, Will (1975). "Politics". Odd Facts. Tempo Star. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-448-13506-9. 
  6. ^ a b Daniel Tepfer (2009-10-20). "Challenge to Paugussett heritage dismissed". Connecticut Post. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  7. ^ Orcutt, v1 1886, pp. 26--27.
  8. ^ Brilvitch 2007, pp. 13--14.
  9. ^ Brilvitch 2007, pp. 16--17.
  10. ^ Brilvitch 2007, pp. 19--22.
  11. ^ Brilvitch 2007, pp. 11--12, 27--36.
  12. ^ Margaret Pearce (12 Aug 1993). "Stand-off at Golden Hill Paugussett smoke shop". Native-L. Archived from the original on Sep 19, 2006.  in Hayden, Lisa (August 12, 1993). "PAUGUSSETTS CLOSE SMOKE SHOP". Norwich Bulletin (Colchester). 
  13. ^ a b c Sam Libby (1999-12-12). "Another Chance for Golden Hill Paugussett". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  14. ^ a b Raymond Hernandez (2004-06-15). "Connecticut Indians Denied Tribal Status, Dimming 3rd Casino's Chances". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  15. ^ Gale Courey Toensing, "Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Seeks to Regain Rightful Status", Indian Country, 31 May 2011, accessed 17 March 2013
  16. ^ "Chief Of Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe Dies". WTIC News. [dead link]
  17. ^ a b Gregory B. Hladky (3006-12-06). "Federal judge tosses Paugussett land suit". Orange Bulletin. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  18. ^ "Paugussett tribal chief, 92, dies". Norwich Bulletin. 2008-08-05. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  19. ^ Libby, Sam (18 October 1998). "Tribes to Revive Language". The New York Times. p. 6. 
  20. ^ "Pow-wow with the Golden Hill Paugusett". East Haddam Today. 2010-05-12. Retrieved 2010-08-07. 


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