The Mashantucket Pequot are a federally recognized Native American nation in the state of Connecticut. They are descended from the Pequot people, an Algonquian-language tribe that dominated the southern New England coastal areas. Within their reservation in Ledyard, New London County, the Mashantucket Pequot own and operate Foxwoods Resort Casino. As of 2012, it is the world's largest resort casino in terms of gambling space and number of slot machines.
Beginning in the late 20th century, the tribe filed a federal land claims suit against the state and US government, charging that it had been illegally deprived of its land through state actions, which were not ratified by the Senate. As part of the settlement of this suit, Congress passed a bill and gave federal recognition to the tribe, in addition to approving financial compensation so that the tribe could buy land. The Mashantucket Pequot were the eighth tribal nation to gain recognition through an act of Congress; this was a political solution rather than the administrative process established by the Department of Interior within the executive branch.
Tribal membership is based on proven descent from members of eleven Pequot families who were listed in the 1900 US Census. The MPT is one of two federally recognized tribes in Connecticut; the other are the Mohegan Indian Tribe.
In addition, the state recognizes three tribes having reservations set aside in the colonial era: the Schaghticoke tribe, whose reservation dates from 1736; the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, with a reservation from 1683; and the Golden Hill Paugussett Indian Nation, with a reservation from 1639.
The Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation is a land base in Mashantucket, Connecticut, in New London County, in the Norwich-New London metro area. It is held in trust for the tribe by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), US Department of Interior. It is on the Pequot River, now known as the Thames River. The Tribe also has about 3.47 acres (14,000 m2) of off-reservation trust land in the town of Preston.
According to the 1990 census, the Mashantucket Pequot population was recorded as 320. By 2005, tribal membership had increased to 785. As a federally recognized tribe, the Mashantucket Pequots have the authority to determine their membership criteria. The tribe requires its members to be of proven lineal descent from Mashantucket Pequots listed in the U.S. census of 1900 and 1910. In 1996, the tribe closed enrollment, with the exception of children born to currently enrolled tribal members.
The 2000 census showed a resident population of 325 persons living on reservation land, 227 of whom identified solely as Native American, while others identify as having more than one ethnicity, including non Pequot spouses. Since that time, the tribe expanded reservation housing, and members continue to relocate to the reservation as housing opportunities become available.
As of 2008, the Mashantucket Pequot Elders council includes:
The seven members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council are:
The current administration's seven-member council has stated that the nation's priorities are protecting tribal sovereignty; focusing on the educational, emotional and physical well-being of members; and working to leverage the tribe's financial and economic strengths through partnership initiatives, both locally and abroad. Mashantucket Pequot's most recent efforts include investment in North Stonington, Connecticut. Tribal development there, such as the Lake of Isles golf course, has proven to be a positive addition to the town's tax base.
Council members are elected by popular vote of the tribal membership to three-year, staggered terms. There are roughly 500 eligible voting members of the tribal nation, which numbered 900 in 2012. Tribal Members must be at least 18 years old and in good standing with the Tribe to be eligible to vote.
Since 1992, the Mashantucket Pequot have operated what has developed as one of the largest resort casinos in the world. The Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, a research center at the University of Connecticut, analyzed the casino's effects on the Connecticut economy. Their report stated that the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and its Foxwoods casino have had a positive economic impact on the neighboring towns of Ledyard, Preston, and North Stonington, as well as the state of Connecticut, which has received more than $4 billion in slot revenue to date.
The Mashantucket Pequot claim descent from the historic Pequot, an Algonquian language-speaking people who dominated the coastal area from the Niantic River of present-day Connecticut east to the Wecapaug River in what is now western Rhode Island, and south to Long Island Sound. A second descendant group is the state-recognized Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation.
Archeological and linguistic research has revealed that the recorded historic tribes encountered by the Europeans emerged at different periods and often undertook migrations. Various tribal oral histories also attest to major migrations of tribes and the emergence of new tribes over time. But such archeological studies have shown that the Pequot people and their ancestors had been in this region for thousands of years before European encounter.
In the early years after European contact through trading with fishermen, the coastal tribes began to suffer high fatalities from new infectious diseases, to which they had no immunity. During the colonial years, Europeans recorded intertribal warfare, shifts in boundaries, and changes in power among the tribes.
At one time some scholars believed that the Pequot migrated from the upper Hudson River Valley into central and eastern Connecticut around 1500. The theory of Pequot migration to the Connecticut River Valley can be traced to Rev. William Hubbard, a Puritan colonist. In 1677 he suggested that the Pequot had invaded the region some time before the establishment of Plymouth Colony. In the aftermath of King Philip's War, Hubbard wrote Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England, to explore the ferocity with which New England's Native peoples had attacked the English. He did not recognize that Connecticut and the Massachusetts Bay Colony had failed in their diplomatic efforts and promoted conflict through their encroachment on Native lands. Hubbard may have projected the colonists' status by classifying the Pequot as "foreigners" to the region. He described them as invaders from "the interior of the continent" who "by force seized upon one of the places near the sea, and became a Terror to all their Neighbors." The book was published in the mid-nineteenth century.
Contemporary scholars have generally concluded that archaeological, linguistic, and documentary evidence all show the Pequot and their ancestors were indigenous for centuries in the Connecticut Valley before the arrival of Europeans.
By the time the English colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were being established, the Pequot had established dominance of the political, military, and economic spheres among Native Americans in what is now central and eastern Connecticut. Occupying the coastal area between the Niantic River of present-day Connecticut and the Wecapaug River in western Rhode Island, the Pequot numbered some 16,000 persons in the most densely inhabited portion of southern New England.
The smallpox epidemic of 1616–19, which killed roughly 90% of the Native inhabitants of the eastern coast of present-day New England, failed to reach the Pequot, Niantic and Narragansett. The mortality rate of the epidemic among other tribes resulted in their rising to dominance.
But, a smallpox epidemic in 1633 devastated the entirety of the region's Native population. Historians estimate that the Pequot suffered the loss of 80% of their entire population. By the outbreak of the Pequot War in 1637, their numbers may have been reduced to about 3,000 in total.
In 1637, Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay colonies overwhelmed the Pequot during the Pequot War. This followed the Indians' attack on Wethersfield, Connecticut that left several settlers dead. When the military forces of the two colonies, led by John Mason and John Underhill, launched an assault on the Pequot stronghold at Mystic, a significant portion of the Pequot population was killed.
The colonists enslaved the surviving Pequot, and some were forced to become household servants of the Puritans in New England. Most were sent to the West Indies to be sold as labor for plantation agriculture of sugar cane and other commodity crops. Others were transferred to the Mohegan and Narragansett, traditional enemies of the Pequot; the other tribes had become allies of the English.
A few Pequot returned or survived in their traditional homeland, as marginal inhabitants of the territory they had once controlled. Through the years they intermarried with the English colonists, other Europeans, and later African Americans. The majority white culture assumed the Natives had assimilated or disappeared. But, many of the Pequot descendants, while multi-racial, retained a sense of culture and continuity. They absorbed others into their culture and identified as Pequot.
The Mashantucket Pequot reservation was created by the Connecticut Colony in 1666. Although it appointed a board of supervisors, it allowed English taking of the lands over the years. In 1855 the state of Connecticut sold off more than 800 acres of the reservation, without getting ratification of this action by Congress. According to the US Constitution, ratified after the American Revolution, only the federal government had the authority to deal directly with Native American tribes and land transactions with them.
By the time of the 1910 US Census, only 13 tribal members lived on the reservation. By the early 20th century, the reservation of 214 acres had a total population of 20 or 30 persons. In 1973, with the death of Elizabeth George (1894-1973), the last Pequot living on the reservation, the federal government started planning to take back the land. But in this period, the number of tribal members had increased, and they had maintained some continuity of culture. They began to organize politically and planned to assert their sovereignty and try to reclaim some of the land they had lost in the 19th-century Connecticut sale.
In 1976, under the leadership of newly appointed tribal council chairman, Richard "Skip" Hayward, son of Elizabeth George, the Mashantucket Pequot filed a federal land claim against the state. They challenged the state's illegal sale of more than 800 acres of reservation lands in 1855. The US Department of Justice entered the suit, as it dealt with federal issues and constitutionality of the state action. The suit's settlement was documented by federal legislation in 1983: the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Land Claims Settlement Act included the tribe's federal recognition, and was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.
also filing a federal land claims suit against the state of Connecticut for its sale of land in 1855. The tribe achieved political success by persuading Congressmen and appropriate committees in making the case for recognition and land claims. In this period, some tribes based in New York filed land claim suits against its state government, winning in court.
On October 18, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the Connecticut Indian Land Claims Settlement Act, which included federal recognition of the Mashantucket Pequot. They were the eighth American Indian tribe to gain federal recognition through an act of Congress rather than through the administrative process of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Department of Interior. At least one other case of recognition had also been tied to settlement of a tribe's legitimate land claim.
The Mashantucket Pequot have since added to their reservation by purchase and placed the additional lands into trust with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on behalf of the tribe. As of the 2000 census, their total land area was 2.17 square miles (5.6 km2).
The Bureau of Indian Affairs had established criteria, in consultation with federally recognized tribes, by which tribes seeking recognition had to document cultural and community continuity, a political organization, and related factors. Among the criteria are having to prove continuous existence as a recognized community since 1900, with internal government, and tribal rules for membership.
In 1993, Donald Trump, who had business interests at the time in Atlantic City, New Jersey that competed with the Foxwoods casino, made provocative statements about the tribe in his testimony to a Congressional committee. Trump said that the tribal casino owners "did not look like real Indians."
Trump later became a key investor with the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot, who were seeking state recognition.
In his book Without Reservation: The Making of America's Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods the World's Largest Casino (2001), Jeff Benedict suggested that the Mashantucket were not descended from the historical Pequot tribe, but rather from the Narragansett tribe. The Pequot denounced the book. They asserted in public debates that Benedict's genealogical research was inherently flawed, as it failed to reflect the correct descendant lineages for the Mashantucket Pequot people identified on the 1900 and 1910 US Censuses. Dr. Laurence Hauptman, a State University of New York Distinguished Professor of History and specialist in Native American history, disputed many aspects of Benedict's work. He argued with Benedict's assertions on the genealogy of current members. The anthropologist Katherine A. Spilde also criticized Benedict's book.
In 2002, the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation of North Stonington, Connecticut, gained federal recognition, as did the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation in 2004. The state of Connecticut, casino interests, and some jurisdictions challenged these approvals. After a review and the re-election of President George W. Bush in 2004, the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2005 revoked recognition of both these Connecticut tribes. It was the first time since the 1970s that the agency had terminated any federally recognized tribe.
The Mashantucket Pequot tribe receives numerous requests from individuals applying for admission as members. They base tribal membership on an individual proving descent, by recognized genealogical documentation, from one or more members of eleven families included on the 1900 US census of the tribe.
Each federally recognized tribe has the authority to set its own membership/citizenship rules. Their descent rules are similar to the Cherokee Nation's reliance on proven direct descent from those Cherokee listed in the early 20th-century Dawes Rolls. In addition, the Mashantucket Pequot have begun to require genetic testing of newborn children whose parents apply to enroll them as members, to ensure the child is descended from the parent claiming tribal membership.
Since the late 20th century, the interpretation of laws related to tribal sovereignty of federally recognized tribes has enabled some tribal nations to develop new businesses and sources of revenue. Particularly important has been the development of gaming casinos and related resort facilities, which have generated substantial revenues in some locations for the tribe to invest in other economic development and welfare of the tribe. The Mashantucket Pequot decided to use gambling as a revenue generator to support other economic development and welfare programs. In 1986 they established a high-stakes bingo hall and later added related facilities.
In 1992, the Mashantucket Pequot opened their resort casino, called Foxwoods. Now one of the largest casinos in the world, in 2008 it was one of the most successful. The facility includes hotel and resort conference facilities. It is located near the large metropolitan area of New York City. It provides a variety of jobs for tribal members but, more importantly, the tribe has used revenues from the casino to invest in other community development, such as its adjacent museum.
Adjacent to Foxwoods, the tribe maintains the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. This interprets Pequot history and culture of several millennia. The museum is an educational center for both school children and adults, and has attracted international visitors. The museum hosts local and international indigenous artists and musicians, as well as mounting changing exhibits of artifacts throughout the year.
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