I feel compelled to respond to an editorial featured in The Day newspaper from Saturday October 5 entitled “Tale of the Thomases” with hopes that, as a tribal member, I might shed a unique perspective on this unusual community rocked by years of wealth, crippling debt and ongoing controversy.
Michael and Steven Thomas are distant cousins of mine. Although I know neither of them personally, I’ve observed them in leadership over many years. I have listened as they spoke at hundreds of tribal meetings. I’ve butted heads with them on occasion. I’ve laughed with them from time to time, and I’ve even bear-hugged them at powwows and funerals. That’s what families do. With this in mind, what I have to say next will likely raise a few eyebrows.
I believe the Thomas brothers were captives of our tribe’s political environment.
Please understand I do not excuse or dismiss any action or decision that culminated toward the financial demise of my community. In fact, to be blatantly honest, my tribe has been through hell. Nearly every family in my community has struggled significantly from the complex financial throes of recent years, yet, despite the overwhelming stress in the shadows of organizational restructuring, a growing awareness is taking root. It’s the kind of awareness that comes from deep, soulful reflections of we’ve been through and the lessons we might learn from our mistakes.
With this in mind, I believe one of our greatest challenges at Mashantucket exists within my tribe’s constitutional powers of government. Simply put, when a strong political clique collides with a tribal council holding all the power to do anything they want with the tribe’s resources uncontested…it’s a recipe for disaster.
Leaders who make and interpret their own laws will eventually face the temptation to believe they are above the law. Yet, ironically, they often become subservient to the manipulation of their own political support groups. As demands for wealth or power escalate, these elected officials become absorbed into a vicious cycle of self-preserving envy and ambition, fueling an atmosphere of strife and evil among themselves. (See James 3:16 KJV.)
Michael and Steven suffer publicly because of decisions made during a time when both likely felt invincible. So far, Michael was convicted at trial and Steven has pleaded guilty to theft. Sentencing is pending for both men. Yet, even before the final court action, you state: “…there is no denying these convictions have sullied the tribe’s image.”
Oh how quickly we forget folks like John G. Rowland and Vincent “Buddy” Cianci. Despite the fact that each man fell from their pinnacles of grace, neither of these former state leaders managed to tarnish the images of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Why? It’s simple. Neither of these men represented the value systems of the states they governed, and in much the same way, the Thomas brothers do not represent my tribe as a whole.
In reality, most of our tribal members fall into one of three categories: those who are unaware of the tribal politics played out over the last two decades, those who have grown chronically disillusioned, and those who remain silently neutral out of fear of retribution. Some gave up on challenging the powers that be, as though the act of beating their heads repeatedly against a brick wall left them with little hope for positive change. Others were disenfranchised for refusing to buy in to the political hustle. Still others feel their voices do not matter, or if they did speak out, they fear they’ll be blocked from career opportunities or – worse case scenario – get fired.
What my people need most is PRAYER, not public ridicule.
As for the Thomas brothers, they are simply human. They are not the first human beings to go through such public accusations and tribulations in this region and they won’t be the last. Yet, what I find most extraordinary in the wake of these trials is my community’s resilience. I’ve witnessed a growing movement of mercy and forgiveness. The Thomas brothers are very LOVED. My tribe is willing to embrace and carry them through a very tough season.
We, at Mashantucket, do not eat our own.
The fact is, the heart of my people is very much alive, and our growing willingness to love and understand one another, learn from our transgressions and rebuild a legacy of hope is, in my opinion, worth every bit of the shaking it has taken to get us to this point. May God continue to help us all.