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Thirteen years ago the U. Supreme Court ruled that Indian tribes, as more or less sovereign nations, can run their own gambling operations on tribal land, free of taxes and regulations that rein in the casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. In the early '90s new questions were being raised about the legitimacy of the biggest and most prosperous of these tribes: the Mashantucket Pequot, who run Foxwoods casino in Connecticut.
According to most history books, the original tribe had been extinct for more than years. Foxwoods casino rises out of rural Connecticut like Las Vegas with an Indian motif. In Foxwoods was the largest, most successful casino in the Western Hemisphere, conveniently located on sovereign tribal territory in the heart of the Northeast corridor, within a three-hour drive of 22 million Americans. In the early '70s, the Pequots didn't exist, at least as far as the federal government was concerned.
There was just a small reservation given to the remnants of the tribe by the state of Connecticut. And for a time in the s, only one person lived on it, a year-old woman, Elizabeth George, who was blessed with a very ambitious grandson: Skip Hayward.
Formerly a pipefitter with the Electric Boat Co. The first thing he did was recruit his brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins to join him on the reservation. Next he hired a lawyer and sued the state of Connecticut over land claims. He settled for an act of Congress officially recognizing the Pequot as a tribe.
Hayward's friends and family tried various business ventures: a pizza parlor, hydroponic vegetables and even pig farming. But nothing worked. Then with a loan, guaranteed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the tribe opened a high-stakes bingo parlor. The casino raked in more than prosperity to the Pequot reservation; it brought Pequots there. There was no shortage of aspiring Indians eager to sign up to share the wealth; anyone who could prove he or she was one-sixteenth Pequot Indian was entitled.
Clifford Sebastian, wo grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was working as a transit cop in New York City until he arrived at the reservation as an assistant chief of the tribal police. Despite all this wealth and power, the tribe was not without some powerful enemies who considered them not only nouveau riche, but nouveau Indian. Among the enemies were Donald Trump and his political point man, then New Jersey Congressman Robert Torricelli, who said the Indians had all sorts of unfair competitive advantages.
He, too, questioned the Pequots' authenticity. The Foxwoods' skyline is more impressive now with a new hotel tower. The roads leading to Foxwoods are dotted with inns and restaurants all owned by the Pequots.
The tribe has even manufactured high-speed boats to ferry in the high rollers from New York. Benedict spent two years pouring over court records and census tracts, he says. He claims that these Pequots can't trace their bloodlines back to the original tribe as Congress required and they hadn't functioned as a tribe for decades until Hayward moved his friends and family to the reservation in the early s, when he was still identifying himself on most public documents as white or Caucasian.
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