- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has rejected a Piscataway Indian group’s petition for state recognition, halting its bid to become the state’s first officially recognized Indian tribe.

In a decision delivered Wednesday night, Mr. Ehrlich said the Piscataway Conoy Tribe had not proven that its members are direct descendants of Indians who lived in Maryland before 1790.

Mr. Ehrlich’s ruling is a setback for the group, which has been trying for years to get recognition from state lawmakers. Recognition can help a tribe gain access to federal benefits in education, housing and health care.

In his letter, the governor wrote that some members of the tribe, referred to as PCT, could trace lineages to the 1850s. But they could not make the connection with Piscataway Indians living in the region before 1790.

“The evidence submitted by the PCT does not support a degree of descent that is greater than would be found in the general population of the state,” Mr. Ehrlich wrote.

The Piscataway Conoy, which says it has 3,500 members in Southern Maryland, had argued that recognition would restore the identity of people who trace their roots to a tribe that existed for more than 5,000 years along the Potomac River.

The group’s leader, Mervin Savoy, who also runs the Charles County school system’s Indian education program, testified in front of a House committee in March.

When asked about Mr. Ehrlich’s decision, a woman who answered the phone at Mr. Savoy’s office said: “We have no comment on it at this time.” She refused to identify herself.

The Maryland General Assembly created the recognition program in 1988 to honor groups that couldn’t meet all the standards to be deemed an official tribe by the federal government.

To be eligible, a group must prove through historic records that members descended from Indians living in the state before 1790. It must also show that a continuous American Indian “community” existed from 1790 to the present.

Only two groups have applied for state recognition — the Piscataway Conoy and the rival Piscataway Indian Nation, led by chief Billy Tayac.

The two groups have sparred over which represents the true descendants of the Piscataway Indians.

Mr. Tayac opposed the Piscataway Conoy application and testified against it during the March committee meeting.

The Piscataway Conoy only identified itself in the 1970s, Mr. Tayac said, when people began searching for Indian roots in their heritage. The new group can’t contend that it directly descends from the Piscataway, he said, and the governor’s decision proves it.

“What [Mr. Ehrlich] said is the same thing we’ve said about them from Day One,” Mr. Tayac said.

Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening vetoed a bill last year that would have sped up the process for granting state recognition of tribes. Mr. Glendening feared that the bid was an effort to bring slot machines to the state, as federally recognized Indian tribes are exempt from gambling laws.

@Subhed.reversed:Mr. Ehrlich wrote that the Piscataway Conoy can submit a revised petition if the group comes up with stronger documentation. The group has a pending application for federal recognition.

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