Book Questions Ancestry of CT Tribe

Monday, May 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. (AP) — A new book about the Mashantucket Pequots, one of the nation's smallest and richest Indian tribes, has opened centuries-old wounds in the wooded, rolling hills of eastern Connecticut.

In ``Without Reservation: The Making of America's Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods, the World's Largest Casino,'' author Jeff Benedict says the present-day Pequot tribe members are not blood relatives of the historic tribe that was nearly exterminated in a 17th-century war.

The book also says Connecticut congressmen and state lawmakers were duped into allowing the tribe to open Foxwoods, one world's most profitable gambling palaces.

The Pequots and some researchers say the book is an unfair attack against a legitimate Indian tribe that has suffered for centuries through war, disease, slavery and poverty.

``We are a proud people, and we will not stand by and cater to anyone who may be racist or jealous of our hard work and success,'' Tribal Council Chairman Kenneth Reels said in a letter this week to tribal members.

Reels' letter said the tribal council is discussing how to respond to the book, but did not elaborate. A spokesman for Reels declined further comment.

Some who live around the reservation, upset that their bucolic corner of Connecticut has been transformed by towering hotels and shiny limousines, see the book as vindication of their complaints.

``If the tribe is not a bona fide tribe, then they should not be operating a casino,'' said Ledyard Mayor Wesley Johnson. ``We don't expect 13,000 people to be out of work or to see property boarded up ... but something should be done.''

The Pequots have never disclosed their finances, but analysts speculate Foxwoods takes in about $1 billion a year. The tribe says the casino draws about 50,000 people a day.

The Mashantucket Pequots were decimated by a 1637 war with European colonists and neighboring tribes. The tribe dwindled further over the centuries, and at one point there was just one resident on the Pequot reservation, Elizabeth George.

The book tells how her grandson, Skip Hayward, worked to get the tribe federal recognition by an act of Congress in 1983. Recognition brought the sovereignty the tribe needed to build Foxwoods in Ledyard.

Unlike other eastern tribes, the Pequots did not go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs recognition process, which includes deep probes of genealogy and history.

Benedict notes that Hayward and his family identified themselves on marriage licenses and birth certificates as white — until, he says, they recognized ``the legal advantage of forming a tribe.''

Benedict isn't alone in his skepticsm.

Another book about the Pequots, by Kim Eisler, an editor at Washingtonian magazine, is to be published in February. ``Revenge of the Pequots: A Tiny Tribe's Billion-Dollar Gamble'' expresses wariness about the tribe, but finds there is evidence to support their claims.

Other researchers side firmly with the Pequots, including Laurence M. Hauptman, a history professor at State University of New York at New Paltz. Hauptman has written a dozen books about American Indians and helped edit a 1990 book about the Pequots.

``If this Benedict fellow were in my class, I wouldn't pass him for the type of research he did,'' Hauptman said.

The book ignores important facts, including a Civil War pension record for one of Hayward's ancestors that identifies him as a full-blooded Pequot, Hauptman said.

Benedict stands by his book, which he said is based on 650 interviews and thousands of documents and news articles. Tribal leaders refused to talk to him, but he said he talked with numerous members on the condition of anonymity.

He said if the modern-day Pequots really are descended from the historic tribe, all they have to do if show their proof.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs said it would look into the book's claims, but bureau communications director Rex Hackler said the book ``looks like a repeat of the same old story.''

``It would be better if everyone in that area could find a way to get along instead playing this out in the newspaper,'' he said.