Tribal leader says tribe 'shocked' by denial from land trust

A local Native American tribe is upset with the Shelton Land Conservation Trust after what the tribe calls a last-minute decision of the board to deny the tribe use of Nicholdale Farm for a pow wow, scheduled for October.

Shoran Piper, a tribal leader of the Golden Hill Paugussett tribe, which has a reservation in Trumbull, said the tribe initially approached the land trust last spring or early summer.

“In June it was a definite,” Piper said of using Nicholdale Farm. “In the summer we did a walk-through and we did the paperwork.”

Just recently, Piper said, the tribe was shocked to receive a call from the trust that the land would not, in fact, be available. The have held a Pow Wow in towns upstate but wanted to have a local event, open for the public, since the tribe has many local connections, she said.

“We were shocked and angry,” Piper said of the news. “We have to retrace our steps now and at the last minute we’re trying to find a new place.”

Shelton Land Conservation Trust President Joseph Welsh defended the board’s decision last week, saying that as the all-volunteer board learned more about the event, it was concerned it would damage the natural habitat and involve liability issues the trust’s insurance might not cover.

“One of the main reasons we initially entertained the idea of the Pow Wow is our respect for the Native American culture, and we view them as some of the best land stewards there ever were, by taking care of the land and not exploiting it as is so common in today’s world,” Welsh wrote.

The Shelton Land Trust is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of open spaces. The nonprofit currently holds in trust 30 parcels of land, totaling more than 365 acres. Nicholdale Farm is right off Route 110 and is open to the public for hiking and nature study, according to Welsh. It has a camping area as well. The property consists of 30 parcels, totaling 60 acres.

Shelton resident Keith Rood, a friend of the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe, worked with the tribe and land trust to secure the space for the Pow Wow. Rood brought attention to the issue with a letter to the editor, published in last week’s Herald.

According to Welsh, “the trust had never allowed such an intense use of the property as was proposed by Mr. Rood with multiple vehicles and retail vendors on site, so we had to really make sure an event of this magnitude was the right decision. I was part of a site walk with Mr. Rood in the fall to go over details and logistics and report back to the board for further discussion. While there are many good aspects, Nicholdale did not seem like the best choice.”

“It’s a shame this has happened to these poor people; they’ve spent hundreds of dollars already, out of pocket,” Rood said. “They haven’t found a new location yet.”

Rood said Native Americans have been the best stewards of the land and plans had been made to make sure the event was low impact.

“This is a grass field,” Rood said of the location. “We planned to have 10 to 12 vendors and the tribe wanted to bus people in so there would be no further damage to the area.”

The tribe had plans to donate money to the trust, use the Boy Scouts to help with any cleanup necessary, and have a booth to educate visitors to the Pow Wow about the land trust, according to Piper. She said they haven’t heard a convincing reason as to why the board changed its mind.

“We’ve heard four or five excuses why we can’t use it, and none of them are good excuses,” Piper said.

Piper said she fears the denial may be due to misunderstanding of the culture.

“It’s been like this for years and years, and we continue to get put on the back burner,” Piper said of Native Americans. “Our culture and religion remains hidden, and I see it happening to other tribes, too.”