Stumbling Into Something Big
*Hi everyone! I’d like to share a tiny little peek into a memoir I’m writing. Let me know what you guys think in the comments below. – Lori*
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When I first arrived to the Mashantucket Pequot reservation, I was in my mid-twenties and married with two small boys. My husband looked forward to a change of pace outside of the last seven years he served in the Air Force, but nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to wander into.
As a daughter of a Navy officer I grew up in Sacramento California, far from my mother’s birthplace near the Mashantucket Pequot reservation in Connecticut. The years of my youth were burdened with a continual struggle with poverty. My mother worked three jobs and went to night school as a single parent supporting my two younger sisters and me. Often our neighbors, church, and the local Salvation Army branch pitched in to help us out with food and clothing donations. I remember waiting in a downtown Sacramento parking lot for government cheese and butter distributions. I held my baby sister on my hip near the car while my mother stood patiently in the hot summer sun to receive a brick of generic butter and bright orange block of processed cheese product. Hideous stuff, especially if you’re lactose intolerant, but it was free food nonetheless. We drove around in a rusted, avocado-green 1971 Chevy Impala with shredded vinyl seats and a crackly AM radio. It was a virtual sweatbox in the scorching San Joaquin valley summers with hand crank windows and no air conditioning. A car that squealed so loudly when turning corners that you could hear it coming three blocks away.
Mom often told us that if life became too difficult we could all return to Connecticut to live on the reservation. Yet, little did we know then that all of the black and white photos of Pequot Indian ancestors mom had placed neatly around the house were connected to something far more significant than any of us had ever dreamed.
Having grown up in California, I was completely unaware of the existence of Foxwoods Resort Casino. All that I knew of the Pequot tribe was from my mother’s childhood memories. Families met frequently at the reservation homestead, and as a young girl, my mother tagged along with her father on occasional visits to Mashantucket. She told us about the simple clapboard home with no plumbing, an old outhouse, rope swing and picnic table. The kids played outside in the woods while the grownups exchanged stories and caught up with one another. Maple sugar harvesting and selling firewood was the only economic means to bring in a meager income and prepare for harsh New England winters. The reservation was very poor and the lifestyle for all who lived there was tremendously difficult.
When I was a child living on the west coast there was very little information to be found on the Pequot tribe, and whatever resources I could find in libraries would typically cite that Pequots were a bloodthirsty war-like tribe, but were no longer in existence. I was willing to embrace any possible way to learn all that I could about the Pequots, but a real practical opportunity wouldn’t materialize until several years after I was married.
My husband and I spent three years living in the United Kingdom during the early part of the 1990’s near an American military base called R.A.F. Lakenheath. The base appointed various dates throughout the year to recognize the cultural diversity of families serving in the U.S. Air Force. “Native American Appreciation Month” was one of the event calendars announced on base, but unlike most other cultural awareness celebrations, there were no Native American events planned. It was then that I decided to call my mother to suggest that we all fill out our tribal membership applications. Mom had received a set of applications in the early seventies when Grandpa Frank passed away. She chose to wait until my sisters and I were old enough to decide for ourselves if we wanted to become enrolled members. We all agreed to do it, and sent our applications to the tribe in 1993. We thought this would be the best way to learn about our Pequot heritage. And I quietly hoped that maybe someday I would be able do something significant to help my tribe in some way.
My mother and youngest sister was enrolled in the tribe in 1995. I received an excited phone call from mom as soon as they returned home from their visit to Connecticut.
“Our tribe has a casino now,” she said.
Oh good for them, I thought, reminiscing about her stories of reservation poverty in contrast with an obscure little gaming enterprise that I thought must have finally brought some degree of financial stability to the tribe. I first envisioned the casino as a rustic multi-purpose building tucked away in the woods, but the reality of what Foxwoods Resort Casino actually was delivered quite a shock when I saw it with my own eyes upon arriving for my tribal enrollment. I wasn’t prepared for a majestic, elaborately sprawling turquoise-roofed façade of what was then heralded as the world’s largest resort casino.
We really stumbled into something big, we thought.