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Coordinates: 41°27′58″N 71°58′28″W / 41.46611°N 71.97444°W / 41.46611; -71.97444

Mashantucket Pequot Tribe
Total population
(Enrolled members: 1,003)
Regions with significant populations
United States (Connecticut)
Languages
English, formerly Pequot
Religion
Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Mohegan and Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation

The Mashantucket Pequot are a federally recognized Native American nation in the state of Connecticut. They are descended from the Pequot people, one of the Algonquian-languages family. Within their Reservation in Ledyard, New London County, Connecticut, the Mashantucket Pequot operate Foxwoods Resort Casino, which is the world's largest resort casino in terms of gambling space and number of slot machines. Until 2007, the casino was one of the most economically successful in the United States, but by 2012, the casino was deeply in debt.

In the course of its successful federal land claims suit against the state, the tribe achieved federal recognition in 1983 by an act of Congress, as part of the settlement of the suit. It was the eighth tribal nation to have gained recognition through the political rather than administrative process. Tribal membership is based on proven descent from tribal members listed in the 1900 Census. They are one of two federally recognized tribes in Connecticut; the other are the Mohegan Indian Tribe.

In addition, the state recognizes 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.

Geography

The Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation is a land base held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Mashantucket, Connecticut, in New London County, in the Norwich-New London metro area. 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. The Mashantucket Pequot reservation was created by the Connecticut Colony in 1666. The reservation population reached a nadir of 20 or 30 persons in the early 20th century. In 1973, when the last person living on the 214-acre reservation died, Elizabeth George, the state government started planning to take back the land.

In 1976, under the leadership of newly appointed tribal council chairman, Richard "Skip" Hayward, the Mashantucket Pequot filed a land claim against the state, contesting the illegal sale of more than 800 acres of reservation lands by the state of Connecticut in 1855. When finally settled 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. The Mashantucket Pequots 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).

Demographics and membership

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.

History

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.

Early history

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.

In the early years after European contact through trading with fishermen, the coastal tribes began to suffer high fatalities from new infectious diseases. During the colonial years, Europeans recorded intertribal warfare, shifts in boundaries, and changes in power.

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 sometime 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 Connecticut and the Massachusetts Bay Colony's failed diplomacy and conflicts through 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.

Disease

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.

Warfare

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 as labor for plantation agriculture. Others were transferred to the Mohegan and Narragansett, enemies of the Pequot who had allied themselves with 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 other ethnic groups. The majority culture assumed they 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.

20th century history

By the time of the 1910 US Census, only 13 tribal members lived on the reservation. In 1973, Elizabeth George (1894–1973) died on the 214-acre (0.87 km2) tract of forest reservation land. Her death left no one from the tribe remaining on the land, and the federal government started the process to reclaim it.

In 1975 Richard Arthur Hayward became the tribal chairman. He worked to gain federal recognition for the tribe. 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 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). At least one other case of recognition had also been tied to settlement of a tribe's legitimate land claim.

In his book Without Reservation (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; asserting in public debates that Benedict's genealogical research was inherently flawed, as it failed to reflect the correct descendant lineages for Mashantucket Pequots identified on the 1910 and 1900 U.S. Census. 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.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs' had established criteria, in consultation with 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 that competed with the Foxwoods casino, made controversial statements in his testimony to a Congressional committee. Trump stated that the casino owners did not look like real Indians. Despite his well-publicized quote about the Mashantucket Tribe, Trump later became a key investor who backed the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots who were seeking state recognition.

In 2002, the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation of North Stonington, Connecticut, gained federal recognition, as did the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation in 2004. In 2005, the Bureau of Indian Affairs revoked recognition of both Connecticut tribes.

Tribal membership rules

The Mashantucket Pequot tribe receives numerous requests from individuals applying for admission as members. They base tribal membership on individuals' proving descent, by recognized genealogical documentation, from people included on the 1900 census of the tribe. This is similar to the Cherokee Nation's reliance on proven direct descent from Cherokee listed in the early 20th-century Dawes Rolls. In addition, the Mashantucket Pequot have begun to require genetic testing of newborns whose parents apply to enroll them as members, to ensure they are descended from the parent claiming tribal membership.

Recent developments

The interpretation of laws related to tribal sovereignty on Native American lands have enabled some tribal nations to develop new businesses and sources of revenue. The Mashantucket Pequot decided to use gambling as a revenue generator to support other economic development and welfare programs.

In 1992, the Mashantucket Pequot opened their resort casino, called Foxwoods. Now one of the largest casinos in the world, it has become one of the most successful. It is located near a large metropolitan area. 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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