Academic journal article Social Education

From Furs and Wampum to Slot Machines and Megadollars

Academic journal article Social Education

From Furs and Wampum to Slot Machines and Megadollars

Article excerpt

Recent Controversy

In 1992, the Mashantucket, a Native American tribe in Connecticut, opened Foxwoods--the largest casino resort in the world. Foxwoods Resort now generates gross profits of $1 billion a year. In 1996, the Mohegans, relatives of the Mashantucket, opened Mohegan Sun, a colossal concrete complex, only eleven miles away from Foxwoods. It is also a gambling, or "gaming" resort. The competition created by another casino being so close by did not appear to slow the profitable growth of Foxwoods.

By 2000, two more groups of people in Connecticut. asked for federal recognition from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (B.I.A.). Identifying themselves by similar names, both the Eastern Pequot and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot wanted to be recognized as Indian tribes. Each group hoped to build separate casinos on a reservation in Connecticut. In March 2000, the BIA granted preliminary approval to the two tribes' requests, but it could not decide whether the groups should be recognized as one tribe or two. The Eastern Pequot claimed that the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot were a part of their tribe. (1) But the Paucatucks said they were a separate group and wanted to run their own affairs. They had already struck a deal with real estate tycoon Donald Trump, who hoped to finance their new casino. (2)

Town officials of North Stonington opposed the B.I.A.'s recognition of the "new" tribes. These officials were concerned about the social and environmental effects that additional casinos might have on the region. They held up a report from 1976 that had found "no discernable evidence that the [Pequots] had any criteria to establish or define its membership." (3) Adding to the controversy, a local author published a book challenging the Mashantucket's claim to be descendants of the historic Pequot tribe. The author also alleged that the U.S. Congress had bypassed the BIAs requirement for documentation in order to settle a land dispute with the Mashantuckets in 1983. (4)

Some citizens in the surrounding communities angrily called for a congressional investigation into the federal government's process for officially recognizing Indian tribes.

Echoes from History

Do you find this situation a bit confusing? You are not alone. By May 2000, the BIA announced that it no longer wanted to be the "entity that grants federal recognition to American Indian tribes. (5) This confusion over how to define a "tribe" is not new. Conflict over control of land and trade between groups of Native Americans in Connecticut predates the arrival of Europeans. A legacy of clan and tribal divisiveness reaches back beyond historical records to the fragile threads of oral traditions. When Europeans arrived, their desires for power and profit only added new fuel to a fire that was already ablaze.

Mohegan elders said that long ago, they were all one people. The story of the Mohegans begins with a legend about their ancestors, members of the Wolf Clan of the Lenni Lenape peoples, who migrated from the Hudson River (in what is now New York State) to the Atlantic coast. Indians who were already living in the region referred to the Mohegans as pequotaug meaning "invaders" or "destroyers," which indicates that their arrival in the area was regarded as a sudden and hostile invasion. (6) Their new name, the Pequot, stuck, but it is worth noting that, originally, the names Mohegan and Pequot referred to one and the same tribe.

The Pequot War in 1637 marked the first major conflict between Indians and settlers in the region. Trouble began in 1634 when a Dutch trader kidnapped Tatobem, a Pequot sachem (chief), and ransomed him for wampum (belts of shell beads which, like money, served at this time as a means of exchange). After the Pequot paid the ransom, the kidnapper killed Tatobem instead of returning him alive. (7) The Pequot were enraged by this betrayal. Over the next three years, they attacked wampum dealers (who were Dutch and English settlers) on the Connecticut River and Block Island. …

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