Becoming a new tribal member
I did not grow up at the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was a navy brat who grew up in California, and my mom, sisters and I decided to apply for membership to the tribe back in the early 1990′s. So today, I’ll share about the day I was enrolled into the tribe as a new provisional member. It was a day I’ll never forget.
My son M and I were enrolled in the tribe in June of 1996. I was bewildered by the intensity of that first tribal meeting I attended. The meeting was held inside the gymnasium at the tribe’s community center – a brightly lit room with sound echoing off the walls so badly it was difficult to understand everyone who spoke at the microphones. Some people sat in rows of chairs lined in front of a stage listening to the tribal council read various updates, while a sound crew and two clerical typists recorded everything electronically off to one side. Others stood around in various family groups or collected around an open door, leaning in to listen while lighting up their smokes to satisfy nicotine habits.
Some gathered near the food, grazing at the expansive buffet table set up along one side of the room. Mountains of piping hot comfort cuisine was replenished continually by the hurried catering staff darting in and out of the gym. I’d soon discover that fried chicken, carved roast beef and turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, steamed vegetables and salads, along with platter after platter of assorted pies, cakes and cookies were the standard fare for most tribal meetings. We were not skinny people.
I watched as several engaged in a constant murmur of sidebar discussions, oblivious to the speakers at the front of the room. A few ringleaders took turns at a microphone hurling accusations at various council members seated onstage of being a good-ol-boys’-club engaged in crooked business practices and nepotism. Louder more disgruntled banter ricocheted through the crowd as tempers flared, people squaring off with one another, fingers pointed with attitude and disgust. Several more individuals hollered their demands for equal job placement and business opportunities. During that debate, one outraged person threw a chair at the stage. Tribal police were immediately called in to contain the rowdier individuals.
What in the world am I getting myself into, I thought to myself.
Ironically, as if in response to my thoughts, one of my cousins approached me right then with a broad grin and a flamboyant exclamation:
“Welcome to Mashantucket! It’s not too late to change your mind and run away!”