After eight years of study, the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development has completed a review of whether the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy and Sub-Tribes should be formally recognized as an Indian tribe by the state.
The recommendation - not made public - was sent yesterday to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for the final decision.
Yesterday's recommendation was a secret even to the Southern Maryland confederacy, which claims as many as 3,500 members. The group filed its request for recognition during former Gov. Parris N. Glendening's first year in office in 1995, but the issue never made it as far as his desk.
Glendening and other gambling opponents have said they feared the application might be a vehicle for the confederacy to pursue legalized gambling.
But Loretta Avent, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based consultant working with the group, said last night that the Piscataway Conoy has been seeking official confirmation of its identity for more than 100 years, long before other tribes began using gambling as an economic tool.
"Their treasure at the end of the rainbow is to be recognized for who they are," said Avent, who served as White House liaison to Indians during the Clinton administration. "They don't want another elder to leave this earth without being recognized."
Avent would not rule out that the Piscataway Conoy might one day seek to open a casino. Some tribes have used state recognition to help win recognition at the federal level - a prerequisite to legalized gambling.
But Avent said gaming was a "nonissue" in Annapolis because the group's application for a federal recognition is pending with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The confederacy says its members' history spans more than 5,000 years.
In its federal application, the group included old newspaper accounts, oral histories and voluminous genealogical data. The tribe says it has been misidentified for years, sometimes referred to as "mulattoes."
It is not known whether Ehrlich's support for slots could affect his ruling on the application. Glendening was a staunch gambling opponent.
Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman, said the governor would make "an informed decision" under no deadline.