A Novel Attack on Indian Gaming

Below you will find two reviews of Jeff Benedict’s new book, "Without Reservation: the Making of America’s Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods, The World’s Largest Casino." This book was recently published by Harper Collins and has received a great deal of media attention, especially in New England. Benedict’s book attempts to undermine the integrity and credibility of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation because they received Federal Recognition directly from Congress rather than through the BIA’s Federal Acknowledgement Process. This fact would be of little consequence to Americans and probably never be the topic of a best-selling book except for the fact that the Mashantucket Pequot Nation is now a very successful tribal government that is enacting their sovereign right to offer gaming on their reservation. There are a number of other books coming out soon that will tell a different story about the genealogy of the Mashantucket Pequot Nation and provide a more balanced account of the process whereby the Nation received Congressional recognition. For example, Kim Isaac Eisler, a national editor for Washingtonian Magazine, is writing a book for Simon and Schuster, tentatively titled Revenge of the Pequots: A Tiny Tribe’s Billion Dollar Gamble, scheduled for release in February 2001. When asked about Benedict’s book, Eisler responded to the press, "I think my book is more even-handed. No one questioned if these people were descended from the Pequots when they were poor."

While we wait, I can recommend a book by author and historian Laurence M. Hauptman, The Pequots in Southern New England: The Fall and Rise of an American Indian Nation, which he co-wrote with James D. Wherry. This book was published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1990.

A Review of Jeff Benedict’s "Without Reservation: The Making of America’s Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods, the World’s Largest Casino,"

By Katherine A. Spilde

The weapons for attacking Native Americans have become more sophisticated, but no less dangerous, through the centuries. Historically, disease, starvation or war were the most successful strategies for decimating the Native populations of New England. Today, attacks on contemporary Native people are launched in political or legal terms but are no less strategic, and the motivation for these attacks largely remains the same. In his recent work, "Without Reservation: The Making of America’s Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods, the World’s Largest Casino," author Jeff Benedict attacks the Mashantucket Pequot Nation’s history, integrity and governmental status in an attempt to undermine their very existence as an Indian nation. After 353 pages of stalking, the author finally strikes by suggesting that the United States Congress investigate, then possibly revoke, the Mashantucket Pequot Nation’s status as a Federally recognized tribe.

The novel is written as a series of vignettes, woven together through the use of fictional dialogue, leaving the impression that Benedict is simply re-constructing a story or connecting the pieces of a puzzle. There's something remarkably subtle about the way that the book’s argument is built. For example, it represents conversations in quotation marks and locates them all in the present tense. While this technique is useful as a dramatic device, it nonetheless elides the fact that these conversations--overwhelmingly those of characters hostile to the Mashantucket Pequots, including the editorial voice of the author beneath them all--were not recorded. The quotations lend a sense of verbatim to what are either recreated conversations built solely from the memories of those hostile to the Mashantucket Pequots or conversations wholly invented by the author after perusing public documents. Benedict’s rhetorical strategy makes for dramatic reading, but it also obscures two important questions: how complete is Benedict’s information and more importantly, why is he writing this book now?

Selective Research

Early reviews of the book focused on the book’s voluminous research, but Benedict’s research is highly selective. Many of his interviews are with disgruntled former BIA employees and the ex-wife of former tribal chairman Skip Hayward, hardly unbiased sources. Anthropologists like myself who work with tribal histories and genealogies know that public documents and anecdotes are not sufficient for constituting a complete tribal history, particularly one that spans centuries. Even more problematically, Benedict spoke to no more than a couple of Mashantucket Pequot tribal members for the book, rendering his work only one-half of a conversation at best.

This lopsided approach plays on the two greatest prejudices emerging in the era of Indian nation governmental gaming. First, that some people benefiting from Indian casinos are not really Indian. And second, that some Indian nations have a special relationship with the Federal government that they do not deserve. Of course, both of these prejudices rely on definitions of "Indian" that are archaic and manufactured. Many Americans either do not know or chose to ignore the fact that Indian nations are tribal governments and not ethnic groups. As tribal governments, Indian nations provide services to their members in much the same way state governments do. Only recently do some Indian nations with gaming facilities finally have the resources to meet the basic needs of their tribal citizens. As the Director of Research at the National Indian Gaming Association, I spend an inordinate amount of time demythologizing people’s ideas about Indian gaming and correcting false beliefs about Indian gaming and tribal status. Unfortunately, Benedict’s novel re-ignites many of the myths of Indian identity and mis-educates Americans about the complexities of American Indian history and political status.

Why Now?

So why is Benedict writing this story now? The anti-Indian sentiment in Benedict’s book clearly touches a nerve in contemporary New England, where two other Indian nations are under review for federal recognition. In media interviews this week, Benedict stated that he has been approached on the street and thanked by strangers for his work, that he feels "humbled" by all the attention. Make no mistake, Benedict’s book is deliberately building a case against the Mashantucket Pequot Nation and their status as a Federally-recognized tribe. In the process, his work casts a shadow on all Indian nations who are pursuing federal recognition, including those near his home community. Lawyers in the local Connecticut towns who are opposing the recognition of the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots and the Eastern Pequots have cited Benedict’s book in a petition to U. S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, asking him to abandon the proposed preliminary recognition of the two tribes. Using Benedict’s book as "evidence" is a dangerous precedent and clearly a political ploy to call into question the integrity and intentions of all Native people of New England. It was only after the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) became law in 1988 that a tribe’s enrollment criteria or the federal recognition process has been deemed politically important by non-Indians or even interesting to the American public. The danger in Benedict’s book lies in its insinuation that somehow Indian nations themselves have only recently become interested in federal recognition and only then as a means to secure gaming. The fact is that the majority of America’s 558 federally recognized tribes have had a special relationship with the Federal government for centuries or sought recognition prior to 1988. Federal recognition is vital to receiving a host of federal resources that were originally promised to Indian nations during the treaty era and which are provided in exchange for turning over enormous tracks of land.

In 1978, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) created the Federal Acknowledgment Process (FAP) to codify the parameters for securing federal recognition. Benedict’s book sensationalizes the fact that the Mashantucket Pequots did not get recognized through the Federal Acknowledgement Process but through an act of Congress. The fact is that since 1978, six Indian nations, including the Mashantucket Pequots, have received federal recognition directly through Congress. During the same time period, a total of fifteen Indian nations have been acknowledged through the BIA’s FAP process. Of those thirteen Indian nations that have been federally recognized since the passage of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, fewer than half have pursued gambling as an economic development strategy. These figures refute the notion that Indian nations are pursuing or receiving federal recognition with an eye toward developing casinos. Benedict’s attempt to link the process of federal acknowledgement with Indian gaming is clearly a strategic political move and not a research endeavor.

New weapons in an on-going attack

While the weapons have changed, the motives for attacking American Indian individuals and institutions have remained the same. In short, non-Indians want access to Indian resources. Historically, theft or war were popular and effective tactics for alienating Native people from their resources, which in the past were primarily land and natural resources. Today, non-Indians fight in courtrooms or Congress and rely upon the court of public opinion to justify their actions. For the first time in generations, some Indian nations are re-building their vast resources, though very few, like the Mashantucket Pequots have actually acquired conventional wealth through their sovereign right to conduct gaming. It is not surprising, then, that attacks on their integrity would follow. What is disturbing is that the attack came in the form of an expose on American Indian identity.

It is telling that Benedict’s previous work includes an expose of the National Football League, entitled "Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL." While Benedict’s expose format may be popular and easy to market, it is an inappropriate style for writing about the complexities of American Indian identity and federal acknowledgement. While Indian gaming may now be considered a sexy, even glamorous topic, American Indian history and Federal Indian policy should never be reduced to a plot line, and questions of American Indian identity should not be addressed through fictionalized dialogue.

A Distraction

Benedict’s book raises the stakes for everybody because it misses the real story of Indian nation governmental gaming in Connecticut. By creating an oversimplified and antagonistic scenario pitting tribal members against non-Indians, the book deliberately overlooks the ways that Foxwoods and other Mashantucket Pequot development projects have benefitted local Indian and Non-Indian communities alike. By novelizing events and simplifying the facts, Benedicts book distracts his readers from the historic social and economic impacts that gaming has brought to Connecticut. An accurate investigation of the relationship between casinos and power in New England would have revealed good works, charitable contributions and successful community re-vitalization. Indian gaming has helped re-vitalize the economy for entire the state of Connecticut and has had a ripple effect throughout the region. As provocative as this book seems, it is simply incomplete and irresponsible.

A Review of Jeff Benedict’s "Without Reservation: The Making of America’s Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods, the World’s Largest Casino,"
(New York: Harper Collins, 2000. 376 pp., maps, notes, index, cloth $26)

By Professor Laurence M. Hauptman

Jeff Benedict, the author of Pros & Cons: the Criminals Who Play in the NFL and a law student at the New England School of law in Boston, has written what he claims is an exposé on the Mashantucket Pequots, the most successful operators of an Indian casino in the United States. He accuses them of obtaining federal recognition in 1983 by fabricating their Indian identity and by misleading politicians both at the state and federal levels. To Benedict, behind this "fraud" were two men: Tom Tureen, a Maine attorney who represented them, and Richard "Skip" Hayward, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman from 1975 to 1998. In an unabashed way, the author boldly claims: "The [Mashantucket Pequot] tribe had died out generations ago, decimated by European colonists and rival tribes. But the State of Connecticut had never dismantled the reservation, instead permitting various individuals who claimed genealogical ties to the old tribe to reside there"(pp. 31-32). Benedict concludes by calling for a congressional investigation to determine if the people operating Foxwoods are really the Pequot tribe. If not, the author recommends revoking "the group’s federal recognition status" as provided by a 1983 congressional act. (p. 353) In preparing his book, Benedict claimed to have conducted 650 interviews, secured 3,000 pages of documents through the Freedom of Information Act, obtained 50,000 pages of documents through local, town, state and private libraries, the National Archives and state and federal court houses. His project took less than 23 months from the start of his research to the publication of his book. The author’s research is skimpy at best, showing little knowledge of many primary and secondary sources. His conclusions on who is/was a Pequot is largely based on town records of Southeastern Connecticut, ones filled with the racial bias of the time. Often the only categories for classifying peoples were either "white" or "black," an easy way to write the Indians out of history. Perhaps intentionally, Benedict ignores the more reliable Connecticut State Overseers’ records, state officials who directly administered these and other Connecticut Indians from before the Revolution to 1793 when the Connecticut State Indian Affairs Council was create. These records clearly show the continuity of the Mashantucket Pequot as a distinct Indian community with a leadership over time. Benedict cites but ignores the findings of the major secondary literature on the Pequots, including the following. Laurence M. Hauptman and James Wherry, Eds. The Pequots in Southern New England: The Fall & Rise of an American Indian Nation (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma press, 1990); Alfred Cave, The Pequot War (Hanover, N.H.: The University Press of New England, 1996); and Neal E. Salisbury, Manitou and Providence: Indians, Europeans & The Making of New England, 1500-1643 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982). Benedict is ill-informed about Native Americans, about American and Connecticut history, and even about law, his chosen profession. Related to the latter point, he implies that Tom Tureen came on the idea of using the Federal Trade & Intercourse Act of 1790 (Nonintercourse Act) by chance to use in his efforts on behalf of his future eastern Indian clients and their attempts to get federal recognition and a greater land base (p. 12). This argument had actually been used since the 1890s and a first-year law student could have easily dug up the case: Seneca Nation v. Christie. The argument was also used in the 1920s by the Oneida Indians and other Iroquois in their land claims cases. As a law student, he should have been familiar with Oneida Nation v. Oneida & Madison Counties, N.Y., et.al., a United States Supreme Court case decided in January, 1974, that held that the Federal Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790 applied to the original thirteen states. Yet, he incorrectly asserts that the United States Department of Justice concluded in 1975 the very opposite (p. 49). He also mentions that attorney Tureen represented the Oneidas and that these Indians weren’t federally recognized (p. 33). In fact, George Shattuck was the Oneida Indians’ attorney and the Oneidas have been federally recognized by treaty since 1784! Benedict also knows little history. On page 54, he makes a mistake by claiming the Pequots were originally from the Hudson River region of New York and invaded Connecticut. On page 55, he does not clearly explain the origins of the Pequot War of 1637, which were largely caused by Puritan objections to Pequot control of the land of Southeastern Connecticut as well as the Indians’ control of wampum. He mentions the Battle of Fort Griswold during the American Revolution, but never states that Pequots died there fighting for American independence against the British. Glaringly, he covers up Connecticut state officials’ motivations in the selling of most of the Mashantucket Pequot reservation lands in 1855. This action was done without the approval of the federal government. Benedict claims that Connecticut only committed a technical mistake. He insists that Connecticut used the money for the welfare of the Indians. In mid-nineteenth century America, Native Americans were not receiving humane treatment nationwide. Was Connecticut an exception? On page 86, the author embarrassingly states that President Lincoln was assassinated in 1863! Benedict omits major details of modern Mashantucket Pequot history. The tribe early on won support from the Indian Rights Association of Philadelphia headed by Sandra Cadwalader, who helped them secure grants from Connecticut benefactors such as Ruth Thompson. The tribe attempted many early efforts at economic development — maple syrup, pigs, hydroponic lettuce — secured moneys from the National Park Service to establish a ball field enterprise, and received grants for planning from Aetna and other Hartford corporations. Although briefly mentioned, Governor Ella Grasso deserves more than a paragraph of treatment from the author since she supported tribal efforts and helped, along with the federal government, to secure new housing for these Indians. He minimizes the role of anthropologists, demeans their intentions and ignores their significance in Pequot affairs: James Wherry, Jack Campsini and Kevin McBride. Both Wherry and Campisi are tow of the more prominent applied anthropologists in the country. Wherry did not accept his position, as Benedict claims, because he was "eager to acquire real estate" (p. 152). He never mentions that the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal National Museum and Research Center, an outstanding Smithsonian Institution-affiliated Museum, was part of Chairman Hayward’s vision for nearly twenty years and that Campisi was heavily involved in its creation and success. The Mashantucket Pequots also were one of the first, if not the first, to have a resident archaeologist — Kevin McBride — on staff. Benedict never mentions the quality of the museum or the care the tribe took in subsidizing and doing archaeological survey in the region to preserve the past. Benedict makes other mistakes too. The eastern Indians who did not have federal recognition were known to Washington in 1970, despite Benedict’s claim to the contrary (p. 21). The American Indian Chicago Conference of 1961 was composed of representatives of some of these communities; their Declaration of Indian Purpose was presented to President Kennedy at the White House in 1962. Zara Ciscoe Brough was not the "last living descendant" of the Nipmuc Indians (p. 22). They still exist and have reservation lands. Throughout the book, the author suggests that politicians such as Lowell Weicker were taken in by Tureen, Hayward and the Pequots, an incredible charge since Weicker was one of the brightest, well-read men in public office over the past four decades. Benedict fails to understand that all Native American nations have a right to set their own enrollment requirements. Their membership today is based on the1900 census, not the 1910 census as he states, not so different than the Cherokees of Oklahoma who define their tribal enrollment based upon the Dawes Commission lists of 1900. The author makes it appear that the 1983 congressional act that recognized the Mashantucket Pequot and allowed them to obtain 1000 acres of land was a scheme to avoid the process of federal recognition within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which Benedict claims these Indians couldn’t pass. He also states that, in conspiratorial fashion, Jackson King, Tureen and Hayward outlined a map of the settlement territory very much larger than the acreage taken from the tribe by Connecticut in1855, including valuable undeveloped forest of 1000 acres between the existing reservation n1983 and Route 2 with its clear access to Interstate 95 ten miles away (pp. 113, 119). These charges are ridiculous. At the time King was the attorney against the Mashantucket Pequots representing the local non-Indian residents. Secondly, the reason why the Mashantucket Pequots avoided the Federal recognition petition route through the Bureau of Indian Affairs was because it was slow and bureaucratic and few Indian nations at this time had wended their way through it. The Mashantucket Pequots are one of eight Indian nations to gain federal recognition through an act of Congress and they were not the first — the Houlton Band of Maliseets were in 1980! This route then was not peculiar to the Pequots. As of today, fifteen Indian nations, out of thirty who applied, have used the petition route through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Thirdly, the land mapped by King, Tureen and Hayward in the settlement of 1983 was greater than the acreage taken in 1855 by the State of Connecticut because of several factors: (1) some of the landowners in the original area were determined not to sell to Pequots; (2) congress wanted to create a viable land base of 1000 acres and decided to extend the lands beyond the 1855 boundaries to include the other territory traditional to Pequot existence since it knew of white opposition within the area; (3) and the land along Fanning Road mentioned by Benedict was land that included the Mashantucket Pequot tribal cemetery. The latter, and surrounding lands, were included because of Pequot fears of future development in the area since there were circular depressions, unmarked graves, outside the bounds of the cemetery in the vicinity of Fanning Road. Both Hayward and present Tribal Chairman Kenneth Reels are slandered as fake Indians by the author. The author states that Hayward and Reels are not related (p. 230), yet Chairman Reels is Hayward’s second cousin first removed. Reels’ great grandmother was Annie George, the older sister of Hayward’s grandmother Elizabeth George. The George line are Indians, and can be traced back 200 years. For example, Austin George [see attached Civil War pension record] was described in his Civil War pension application as a "full blood Indian Pequot. No African blood. Lives alone on the reservation" [see attached Civil War pension application of Austin George and/or read my book: Between Two Fires: American Indians in the Civil War (1995)]. Benedict ignores John George, who was the chief of the Pequot Indians in 1933, an example of the continuity of Indian leadership and Hayward’s lineage. The author is also totally unaware that there are 10-11 major families among the Mashantucket Pequots and assumes that all the tribe were Hayward’s family (p. 59). Benedict berates the Pequot Indians for not being James Fenimore Cooper’s "noble savages." Why can’t Indians dine at first-class restaurants, drive fancy cars, intermarry with others. This is not the age of Tonto, Kemosabe and knowing your place. Are Indians only acceptable in America when they are poor, drunks or on welfare? The author never credits the Mashantucket Pequots with giving hundreds of millions of dollars to the United Way, the Smithsonian Institution, the Native American Rights Fund and many other worthy causes. Instead, he carefully points out the money that the Mashantucket Pequots have given to the Democrat Party or the loans they took out to finance their expansion from the United Arab Bank or Lim Goh Tung’s Genting Berhad. Please note that no bank in the United States, much to their later regret, was willing to give the Mashantucket Pequots loans for economic development. Moreover, isn’t today’s American political system filled with big money contributors and PACS? Thus, Benedict’s book fails to carry out his stated objectives. It is a poor effort at investigative journalism let alone historical research. Laurence M. Hauptman* SUNY New Paltz

*Professor Hauptman is the author of twelve books in American Indian history. He holds the position of SUNY Distinguished Professor of History, the highest rank within the State University of New York.

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