II. A Brief History of Indian Law and Policy

By Clarkson, Gavin; Sebenius, Jim | Missouri Law Review, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

II. A Brief History of Indian Law and Policy


Clarkson, Gavin, Sebenius, Jim, Missouri Law Review


While each tribe has its own separate history, the struggle to maintain a separate, sovereign existence is common to most tribes, and while Pequot history has many unique elements, their struggle and ultimate triumph similarly demonstrate that the "first key to economic development is sovereignty." (18) Although the status of tribes as separate sovereigns has not always been clear, the concept has still played a vital part in tribal and U. S. history.

A. Early Pequot History

The Pequots were once one of the most powerful Indian nations in New England, but the English almost annihilated them during the Pequot War of 1637. (19) Thirty years later, as a compensatory measure, the Pequots obtained a reservation of approximately 2000 acres at Mashantucket, (20) which would eventually become Ledyard, Connecticut.

Colonial settlers, however, gradually encroached upon the Pequots' land. In 1761, after settlers had appropriated half the Pequots' territory, a judge deeded that half to the settlers. (21) In 1855, a county court expropriated and sold 800 of the remaining 1000 acres of Pequot land to neighboring property owners. (22)

The population on the 200-acre Pequot reservation dwindled. By the 1950s, Elizabeth George, grandmother of eventual tribal chairman Richard Hayward, was the only Pequot living on the reservation, and her resolve earned her the nickname "Iron Lady." (23) She led a successful campaign against a Connecticut plan to turn the reservation into a state park. (24) In time, George's half-sister joined her, and until the mid-1970s, the two remained the only residents on the reservation. (25) In 1975 Richard Hayward was elected tribal chairman. (26) He left his job as a pipe fitter at the nearby Electric Boat shipyard, moved onto tribal land, and set about rebuilding the reservation's Pequot population. (27) Hayward managed to entice some tribe members back by offering used mobile homes to those who settled on Pequot land, using homes the tribe had acquired from the federal government for $1000 to $1500 each. (28) By 1979, with twenty-three year-round residents on the reservation and many other people visiting and helping with development efforts, the tribe received a $1 million loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to build new homes. (29)

As tribe members returned, the Pequots sought to reclaim lost land. In 1976 the tribe sued the State of Connecticut, claiming that the sale of 2000 acres of Pequot land by the State of Connecticut violated Federal law. (30) In particular, the Pequots argued that Connecticut failed to follow a 1790 law requiring the federal government to approve all sales of Indian land, and that the 1855 sale of Pequot land violated that law. (31)

Seven years later, urged by the Connecticut Congressional delegation to settle the suit, President Ronald Reagan signed the 1983 Connecticut Settlement Act. (32) The Act provided the Pequots with $900,000 in federal funds for a combination of land purchases and economic development projects. (33) In 1984, using funds from the settlement, the Pequots purchased 650 acres of land that previously had been part of the reservation. (34) They also bought a pizza restaurant and started a gravel business and a maple sugar production enterprise. (35)

Land expansion and the tribe's handful of new businesses attracted scattered Pequots back to the reservation. Those who could demonstrate ancestry of at least one-sixteenth Mashantucket Pequot were admitted to the tribe and could establish residency on tribal lands. (36) By 1985, roughly thirty Pequots lived on the reservation. (37) With mixed marriages and families of intermarried couples, the reservation's total population was approximately seventy-five. (38)

B. Tribes as Separate Sovereigns (39)

Although the immense success of Foxwoods was years away, the tribe's land claim and its recognition as a tribe laid the foundation upon which Fox-woods would be built. …

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