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Anti-Indian law targeted, with eye on Democrats

With delegates to the Democratic National Convention set to descend on the multicultural "new Boston" later this month, a regional group of Native American tribes is calling on the state to remove one of the remaining vestiges of the really old Boston.

The Muhheconnew National Confederacy says that now is the time to repeal the 329-year-old Indian Imprisonment Act, which was passed in 1675 during King Philip's War. It authorized the arrest of American Indians entering Boston.

While the act hasn't been enforced for centuries, the issue "should be addressed as Boston is portraying itself as a new Boston by removing the legacy of past discrimination," said Garry McCann, policy adviser for the group. "It should address the legacy from 300 years ago as well."

The coalition of tribes hopes to have the act repealed before the end of the legislative session on July 22, so it can organize a celebration with city and state leaders and a number of Native American delegates arriving for the four-day convention, which begins on July 26.

"We're not looking for a middle-of-the-night amendment slapped onto some piece of legislation," McCann said. "We're looking for a state, city, and public event with the Indian tribes and delegates to address the legacy."

The group has sent a request to Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly seeking proof that the law is still on the books. According to McCann, there is a chance that it may have been repealed by a clause in the state constitution providing continuity of Colonial laws. The clause exempts laws that are "repugnant to the rights and liberties contained within this constitution" from being carried on under the new government.

McCann said the historical mistreatment of Native Americans after the founding of the United States shows that at least the notion of the law was not "repugnant" to the legislators at the time. He cited other postrevolution legislation, such as a ban on interracial marriage, as proof that the Legislature did not exempt discriminatory laws as the state constitution demanded.

Sarah Nathan, a spokeswoman for Reilly, said the office is reviewing the request, which it received on June 29.

Last year, the Boston City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for the statute to be repealed. However, the Legislature, as the successor to the Colonial government, has the final say in the matter.

McCann said that he has contacted the offices of Governor Mitt Romney and House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran and that both were receptive to having the law repealed on the proposed timetable. A spokesman for Finneran said he had been contacted by the group, but he had no comment on a plan of action.

Shawn Feddeman, spokeswoman for the governor, said, "A member of the legislative affairs office listened to their concerns . . .and we are happy to continue to look into the situation."

A spokeswoman for Senate President Robert E. Travaglini said the office was unaware of the group and its proposal.

The Muhheconnew Confederacy, which represents coastal tribes from Delaware to Maine, is waiting for support on Beacon Hill before filing the bill to repeal the act, McCann said.

"It would send a symbolic message," said Bert "Rainmaker" Heath, tribal council chairman for the Webster-based Chaubunagungamaug band of Nipmuc Indians. "That law is a reminder of what really transpired to King Philip's War."

Throughout the two-year convention planning process, organizers have continuously emphasized their inclusion of minority-owned businesses and the multicultural nature of a city whose minority citizens now make up more than half the population.

The confederacy first requested repeal of the law in 1996 when Congress wanted to designate the Boston Harbor Islands, the site of Indian internment camps during King Philip's War, as part of the US national park system.

King Philip's War was a series of conflicts between British colonists and native tribes in southern New England. King Philip, the English name for Metacom, was chief sachem of the Wampanoag tribe.

After a hearing on the islands' designation, according to the confederacy, federal, state and city officials committed to work with the tribes to address tribal concerns, one of which was the state's failure to repeal the 1675 law.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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