The Day on 24 August 2002

Chairman Reels Uses Genealogy to Duck the Real Issue

by Jeff Benedict

Chairman Reels Uses Genealogy to Duck the Real Issue

Shortly after my campaign for Congress ended in July, I heard from Mashantucket Chairman Kenny Reels. No, it wasn't a condolence call. He was demanding an apology. Through his latest lawyer, Ralph Lancaster from Portland, Maine, Reels sent me a certified letter with a 36-page report from certified genealogist Roger Joslyn, who says Reels is a certified Pequot. Mr. Lancaster requested on behalf of Reels that I apologize. Clearly certification and legitimacy remain a chief concern to the chief of the most gambling-enriched tribe on earth. But the motive and timing of this latest Mashantucket maneuver remains unclear. Besides me, he sent his report to my publisher, HarperCollins, and the movie company producing a screenplay based on "Without Reservation."

It is fair to say that my book and the publicity that followed brought Mashantucket genealogy into the spotlight. But that was more than two years ago. This time Reels has put his genealogy under the light. I'll address that below. But focusing on one individual's genealogy and whether it includes Indian ancestry -- something many Americans can do -- doesn't prove tribal legitimacy. By focusing so much attention on genealogy we run the risk of losing sight of the real issue, the one that Reels, the tribe and its lawyers keep ducking: whether the latter-day Pequots have an uninterrupted connection to the historic ones. Put another way, has the Pequot tribe remained intact and cohesive from the close of the Pequot War until now? It's the question that I raised in "Without Reservation," the question that drives to the heart of the modern day Pequots' legitimacy.

The fact remains that the Pequots were awarded federal recognition without satisfying the Bureau of Indian Affairs' seven mandatory criteria for determining tribal legitimacy. In 1983 Congress, in a political compromise, overrode those requirements in an effort to settle a land claim brought by attorney Tom Tureen and his clients against Ledyard landowners. In 1982 the Bureau of Indian Affairs advised Congress not to grant recognition to the Pequots on account that they had not sufficiently proved they were a tribe. President Ronald Reagan echoed the BIA's warning and initially vetoed the legislation aimed at achieving Pequot recognition. The Congress dismissed these warnings, while at the same time neglecting to conduct its own investigation into the Pequots. With the stroke of a few pens, a sovereign nation of less than 100 people landed in Ledyard.