I hope to encourage my fellow Mashantucket Pequots to speak out and take a stand on issues for which they are concerned, even if they feel their opinions or concerns are in the minority. Every voice matters. I also hope to inform people about what I’ve learned regarding the complexities of human nature simply by living and working so closely with my tribe. Through this blog, I will do my best to answer questions, attempt to provoke thought and build constructive dialogue in ways that honor God, respect Native Americans and inspire people to advocate for unity, transparency, justice, and plain old common sense.
That said, my Tribe has reached a critical point in our history, and I see three main reasons why this blog is important.
1. We are in “crisis mode”. As I write this, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe is in the middle of an unprecedented financial crisis and organizational restructuring process. Everything we do now will have an impact on our future generations and we need to be thoughtful in retrospect for where we’ve been, as we plan for the future.
2. We really need to learn from our mistakes. We have a unique opportunity to reflect on the last 20 years and discern what right and wrong decisions were made based on the outcomes. We have an opportunity to readjust our thinking and decision-making so that we don’t allow critical mistakes to repeat in the future.
3. People are watching. We set a major precedent in both New England and Indian Country with the initial development of Foxwoods Resort Casino in the early 1990’s. Since that time, people have observed everything we do to determine one of two things: whether the Pequots are a positive influence or an example of what not to do.
Q. What are some of the tribe’s challenges?
As with any evolving government, we have a variety of challenges to face. Stability is probably the biggest issue. Economically, we are in a financial recession and find ourselves faced with having to improve the way we operate our tribe’s government altogether. We need to maintain a cost-effective government that meets the needs of our people while at the same time challenge tribal members to make the most of their opportunities in a positive way. That’s not an easy task, considering that we grew so fast that we simply did not have a firm grasp on the potential outcome of our decisions in the event of an economic recession or gaming competition in neighboring states.
Imagine any community having a population growth exceeding 500 percent in less than ten years. That kind of rapid growth will put strain on any government, tribal or otherwise. From this point on, it’s all about picking up the pieces and making the best of what we have to secure a stable community for future generations.
Q. Do you think you have cashed in on your heritage?
I think what you are asking is “are you here for the money?” The honest answer is: “not exactly”. Here’s the short version of how I ended up in Connecticut.
I arrived here in 1996 and prior to that visit I honestly had almost no knowledge about Foxwoods Resort Casino and all that it entailed. I grew up in California (Navy brat) and was married and living in England (Air Force family) when my family decided to apply for membership to our tribe. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, so as you can imagine, we stumbled into something big. We did relocate to Connecticut because there was opportunity for careers and college. Moving here was actually a requirement for about 50 people (including me) who were initially enrolled as “provisional members.” In order to be eligible for full membership status and take advantage of college and career opportunities, provisional members were required to relocate and live at or near the reservation for one year, and contribute positively to the tribe as entry-level employees and volunteers. (See my post on Provisional Membership by clicking here.) The focus in the 80′s and early 90′s was repatriation of the tribal community – bringing people home.
As for cashing in on our heritage, there are actually very few in my community who would truly fit this category. For many of us, it’s not about the money. It’s about community and heritage, and this is evident by the fact that the vast majority of Pequots continue to contribute, live and work at or within a reasonable commuter distance of our reservation in spite of the fact that we are no longer required to live here, since that residency requirement was lifted more than a decade ago.
Q. Was the Tribe important to you before the casino was built, and started giving benefits to tribal members?
A. Yes! It was important for me to find a way to connect with my tribal community and learn about our history and culture. When I applied for membership to the tribe, all I knew about the Mashantucket Pequots is what my mother told me from her childhood memories. Stuff I had heard since I was about six years old. Pequots were very poor, had a few trailers on the reservation, had a maple syrup business, raised hogs and sold fire-wood. I wanted to learn about my tribe and figure out if I could help them in some way, someday. And having grown up in California, my family never knew Foxwoods existed until after we sent in our tribal membership applications. Upon receiving those old 1973 tribal membership application forms, someone in the tribal clerk’s office telephoned my mother to reconnect and share the details about what was happening at Mashantucket. It was a bit of a shock, to say the least.
Do you have a question you’d like me to answer in a future post? Contact me here and I’ll be sure to respond to every question as best I can.