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Jewish World Review June 29, 2000 /26 Sivan, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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Consumer Reports


When "Indians"
exploit their own

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- AMERICAN INDIANS have suffered a great deal but it isn't always the White Man's fault. In 1996, the Seattle Times won a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering widespread waste and corruption by tribal leaders across the country who exploited a federal housing program meant for the poor.

One of the tribes the newspaper investigated was the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe in Ledyard, Conn. The Pequots operate Foxwoods, the world's largest casino complex, crammed with over 6,000 slot machines, 350 gaming tables, and 1,400 hotel rooms. The success of their billion-dollar-a-year gambling venture, funded largely by Malaysian business interests, vaulted the entire reservation out of poverty.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development blindly forked over a $ 1.5 million low-income grant to build 15 houses for wealthy tribal members.

"HUD officials say they can't find the usual backup documentation for the agreement," the Times reported. "The documentation couldn't be found at the housing-authority offices either, according to a 1994 financial audit. Among the missing records: proof that the people selected to get houses were still low-income."

This rip-off, which cheated both taxpayers and truly impoverished tribes, is small change compared to the latest accusations of fraud being leveled against the Mashantucket Pequots.

In "Without Reservation: The Making of America's Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods, the World's Largest Casino," investigative journalist and attorney Jeff Benedict exposes the tribe's questionable historical claims and savvy navigation of our political and legal system in pursuit of unchecked riches. Benedict's bold, brave, and Pulitzer-worthy book is a must-read and a must-act-on -- for congressional staffers, homeowners, business owners, local officials, and activists who truly care about the needs of legitimate American Indians.

Federal law requires Indian tribes to have lived and acted like tribes long before applying for official recognition. But according to Benedict's account, Skip Hayward, the man who resurrected the Mashantucket Pequots, never lived on a reservation or showed interest in embracing his alleged roots until approached by a crusading lawyer named Tom Tureen.

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With Tureen's help, Hayward became "chief" of his artificially manufactured "tribe" in 1975 to take advantage of litigation over aboriginal land claims. Benedict reports that until that time, Hayward and 200 of his relatives claiming tribal status had never lived together, never practiced Indian customs, knew little of Pequot history, and always identified themselves as "white."

The Haywards established residency on their Ledyard "reservation" only after being encouraged to do so by Tureen who says in the book that Hayward's land claims to 800 acres of prime real estate were "something we made up."

Benedict's research uncovered evidence that Hayward's grandmother, on whom the newly created tribe relied for their claim to Mashantucket Pequot blood, may not have been connected to the Pequots at all but instead, had remote links to the Narragansett Indians of Rhode Island. No matter. The Pequots under Hayward "distinguished themselves as the only American Indian tribe without a single member whose professed racial origin [was] Native American," Benedict notes.

In 1983, Congress granted the group official tribal status without ever verifying the Hayward clan's genealogical claims. The enabling legislation, known as the Indian Settlement Act of 1983, also handed over nearly three times the amount of land the Mashantucket Pequots had ostensibly sought.

Thanks to political ineptitude and greed, the Pequots hit the jackpot. The tribe's loophole-drilling lawyers next scored crucial exemptions from regulatory oversight in Connecticut, which included exemptions from gambling rules. They won the right to install slot machines after persuading then-Gov. Lowell Weicker with the promise of 25 percent of slot revenue to the state. Meanwhile, the tribe pursued further land expansion efforts while pouring soft money into the coffers of the Democratic National Committee. Business at Foxwoods is booming.

This is not a provincial tale. It could happen or be happening -- in any town where groups are seeking tribal recognition and all the attendant benefits of national sovereignty, including federal grants, tax exemptions, legal immunity, and freedom from environmental, zoning, and gambling regulations. Townspeople in Ledyard and other Connecticut communities are demanding a new congressional investigation into Benedict's revelations.

The Pequots, predictably, are playing the race card. The tribe accuses truth-seekers of pursuing an "anti-Indian agenda." That's a shamelessly ironic charge, given the circumstances.


JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.

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