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The Mashantucket Pequot are a small Native American tribal nation of the Algonquian language community in the state of Connecticut. Within the tribe's Reservation, in Ledyard, New London County, Connecticut, the Mashantucket Pequot operate Foxwoods Resort Casino, the world's largest resort casino, in terms of gaming space and number of slot machines, and one of the most successful economically. The tribe achieved federal recognition by an act of Congress in 1983, the eighth tribal nation to have gained recognition through the political process. Membership is based on proven descent from tribal members listed in the 1900 Census.
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The Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation is a land base held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Ledyard, Connecticut, in New London County, in the Norwich-New London metro area, and 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 Pequot reservation was created by Connecticut Colony in 1666. Over time it had been reduced to less than an acre (4,000 m²), and the Pequot population reached a nadir of 20 or 30 in population in the early 20th century.
In 1976 the Mashantucket Pequot brought a successful lawsuit that contested the illegal appropriation of reservation lands by the state of Connecticut. They went on to expand their reservation by purchase. They placed repurchased lands into trust on behalf of the tribe with the BIA.
According to the 1990 census, the Mashantucket Pequot population was assessed at 320. By 2005, tribal membership grew to 785. The 2000 census showed a resident population of 325 persons living on reservation land, 227 of whom were of solely Native American heritage.
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 publicly stated that the tribal nation's priorities are protecting tribal sovereignty; focusing on the educational, emotional and physical well being of tribal 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. Tribal development there, such as the recently opened $80 million Lake of Isles golf resort, has proven to be a welcome addition to the town's tax base.
Council terms are three years. There are roughly 450 eligible voting members of the tribal nation. 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 one of the largest resort casinos in the world. The Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, a research center at the University of Connecticut, performed an analysis of the casino's impact 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 town of Ledyard and the state of Connecticut.
The Mashantucket Pequot claim descent from the Pequot, who at one time held dominion over the coastal area between the Niantic River of present-day Connecticut, the Wecapaug River in what is now western Rhode Island, to the border of Long Island Sound. Today, there are believed to be two descendant groups of those Pequot who survived the Pequot War: the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, and the Western Pequot, better-known as the Mashantucket Pequot.
Native Americans are believed to be descended from peoples who came over the Bering Straits land bridge more than 15,000 years ago. Gradually they moved throughout the Americas. Various tribal oral histories also attest to major migrations of tribes. In the early years after European contact, Europeans recorded intertribal warfare, shifts in boundaries and changes in power.
At one time some scholars believed that the Pequot migrated toward central and eastern Connecticut sometime around 1500, from the upper Hudson River Valley. 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 sought in his Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England, to explain the ferocity with which New England's Native peoples responded to the English. Seeking answers not in Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay Colony's own failed diplomacy and colonial conflicts over Native lands, Hubbard may have projected his own situation onto the Pequot by defining them 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."
Scholars have generally concluded that archaeological, linguistic, and documentary evidence shows the Pequot and their ancestors to have been longer in the Connecticut River Valley; essentially, they may be considered to have been indigenous for centuries before the arrival of Europeans. By the time the colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were being established, the Pequot had already assumed a position of political, military, and economic dominance 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 what is now 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 epidemic likely contributed to their rise to clear dominance. An 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. At the outbreak of the Pequot War then, the Pequot may have numbered only about 3,000.
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.
Those who survived the massacre were enslaved, with some forced to become household servants of the Puritan English. More were sent to the West Indies, and others to the Mohegan and Narragansett, enemies of the Pequot who had allied themselves with the English colonies. A few Pequot managed to return or survive in their traditional homeland, as marginal inhabitants of a once populous, politically powerful territory.
By the time of the 1910 US Census, only 13 tribal members remained on the reservation. In 1973, Elizabeth George (?–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 working with Congress and its committees on making their case for recognition. On October 18, 1983, President Reagan signed the Connecticut Indian Land Claims Settlement Act. In this way, the Mashantucket Pequot became the eighth American Indian tribe to gain federal recognition through congressional approval rather than following the long administrative process through the BIA.
By contrast, in 2005, the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation of Lantern Hill, North Stonington, Connecticut, lost their bid for federal recognition through BIA, following a challenge by the State of Connecticut. The Mashantucket Pequot is the only federally recognized Pequot tribal government in Connecticut.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs' recognition process requires tribes to prove they have been in continuous existence since 1900, were organized with internal government, and consisted of people who satisfied tribal rules for membership. The Eastern Pequots failed to meet the necessary criteria for recognition.
In his book Without Reservation (2001), author Jeff Benedict suggested that the Mashantuckets were not descended from the historical Pequot tribe, but rather from the Narragansett tribe. The Pequots denounced the book but never otherwise responded to it by public statement. Dr. Laurence Hauptman, SUNY Distinguished Professor of History and specialist in Native American history, disputed many aspects of Benedict's book especially with respect to his genealogical claims regarding the current tribe. Anthropologist Katherine A. Spilde also criticized Benedict's book.
Because of renewed interest in Native Americans and because the Pequots have had such a successful casino operation, they receive numerous requests from people claiming tribal ancestry and wanting entry into the nation. They base tribal membership on individuals proving descent from people included on the 1900 census. This is similar to the Cherokee Nation's reliance on individuals listed in the Dawes Rolls. In addition, the Mashantucket Pequot have begun to require genetic testing of newborns to ensure they are descended from tribal members.
The interpretation of laws related to Native American lands enabled new sources of revenue. The Mashantucket Pequot, like many other Native American tribes, decided to use gambling as a revenue generator. In 1992, the Mashantucket Pequot opened their resort casino called Foxwoods. One of the largest casinos in the world, it has become one of the most successful. Not only does it provide jobs for tribal members, but its revenues have enabled the tribe to invest in other community development, such as their adjacent museum.
Adjacent to Foxwoods, the small tribal nation maintains the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. This describes and expresses Pequot history and culture of several millennia. The museum is an education center for both school children and adults. Its visitors have come from all over the globe. As a tribute to the diversity that makes up Indian Country, the museum hosts local and international indigenous artists and musicians, as well as mounting changing exhibits on artifacts throughout the year.