Brian Hallenbeck, Day Staff Writer
In the years since the early, wild success of Foxwoods, their gaming colossus, the Mashantucket Pequots have known wealth and influence. They’ve been on more than speaking terms with envy and suspicion, too.
Image-building, some would suggest, has not been their strong suit.
“It could be that we’ve been silent on a lot of things that have come out in the media and in books,” says Lori Potter, a tribal member with a rare insider’s perspective. “If you shy from commenting, it gives the impression there’s something to hide.”
For more than a decade, the 42-year-old Potter was in a position to know more than most about the tribe’s inner workings. As a spokeswoman for tribal government from 2006 to 2009 and Foxwoods’ director of public relations from 2009 until her resignation last spring, she enjoyed the kind of access that inspires confidentiality agreements. Now she’s blogging, having this month introduced “Memoirs and musings of a Mashantucket Pequot.”
Her goal, she says, is to reach out to tribal members who need a voice and to foster productive dialogue with people in the region, some of whom may cling to misconceptions about the tribe.
“I feel free to comment about my own experiences,” Potter says. “I’m not speaking for the tribe.”
While she’s not hell-bent on inciting controversy in her weekly postings, she says she’s not about to run from it either. Given the topics that are likely to come up, she may find discord unavoidable.
Indeed, questions about the authenticity of tribal members’ Indian descent and the means by which the tribe gained recognition through an act of Congress – issues stirred up by “Without Reservation,” Jeff Benedict’s 2000 book – still linger. Tribal sovereignty, tribal leadership and tribal finances could also spark Potter “musings.”
In one of her first blogs, she shed light on a “community battle” that raged years ago among tribal members divided over plans for a Foxwoods expansion. Fewer than 80 tribal members finally voted in favor of the $700 million project that became MGM Grand, which, Potter wrote, “has yielded zero investment return value, but has contributed greatly to the Mashantucket Pequots’ unprecedented debt load of more than two billion dollars.”
What outsiders don’t know, Potter says, is that more and more Mashantuckets are well-schooled, a result of the tribe’s policy of paying members’ tuitions.
“Forty percent of the adult population has achieved some higher-education goals,” she says. “It’s a very motivated, success-driven community.”
Potter herself has reaped the benefits of tribal membership. Though a college education seemed out of reach when she was growing up in Sacramento, Calif., her prospects brightened in 1996 when she moved to southeastern Connecticut with her husband Tim and their two young sons. Soon after becoming a full tribal member later that year, she enrolled at the University of Connecticut.
While working for the tribe, she received her bachelor’s degree and went on to earn a master’s in public affairs from Brown.
Small wonder that another of her motivations for blogging is a desire to give something back to her tribe by sharing her experiences over the past 15 years.
“If I am able to encourage others to express themselves openly and help tribes and tribal members make informed decisions that benefit their futures, then perhaps I will have contributed something good,” she says.