Published on November 29, 2012 by Amy
The Mohegan tribe is an Algonquian-speaking tribe living in the eastern upper Thames River valley of Connecticut. At the time of European contact, the Mohegan and Pequot were a unified tribal entity living in the lower Connecticut region. Under the leadership of Uncas, the Mohegan became a separate tribe, independent of the Pequot before the turn of the 16th century. The Mohegan came under Pequot rule briefly in the 1630s until European colonists defeated the Pequot in 1637 during the Pequot War.
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The word Mohegan translates in their respective Algonquin dialects (Mohegan-Pequot language) as “People of the Wolf”. Many Mohegan live on the Mohegan Reservation at 41°28′42″N 72°04′55″W in Montville, New London County. In 1978, Chief Rolling Cloud Hamilton petitioned for federal recognition of the Mohegan in 1978. The tribe gained federal recognition in 1994.
The Mohegan operate the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, as well as a casino at Pocono Downs, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The WNBA team, the Connecticut Sun are owned by the Mohegan. There are at least two bands of the tribe, which are independent of the federally recognized band.
Although similar in name, the Mohegan are a different tribe from the Mahican, also an Algonquian-speaking people, traditionally based in present-day eastern New York. In the United States, both tribes have been referred to in various historic documents as Mohicans, causing a source of confusion based upon a mistake in translation. The Dutch Adriaen Block, one of the first Europeans to refer to both tribes, distinguished between the “Morhicans” and the “Mahicans, Mahikanders, Mohicans, Maikens”. Some people confuse the Iroquoian-speaking Mohawk of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) with the Mohegan, although they belong to two different language families and were historically enemies.
The Mahican were historically located in the Hudson River Valley (around Albany, New York). Their traditional meeting ground was in Schaghticoke. Under pressure during the American Revolution, many moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts after 1780, where they became known as the “Stockbridge Indians” or Stockbridge Munsee. Descendants of this tribe were removed to Wisconsin during the 1820s and 1830s. Most descendants of the Mohegan tribe, in contrast, have remained in New England; the Mohegan have a reservation in Connecticut.
The last living native fluent speaker of the Mohegan language, Fidelia Flying Bird A. Hoscott Fielding, died in 1908. The bulk of Mohegan is known primarily from a Smithsonian Institution report made by the anthropologist, Frank Speck, who lived with Fielding. It was only some seventy years later that her descendants returned to the land to found Mohegan Sun. Gladys Tantaquidgeon filled a multi-generational gap in language knowledge, and the tribe is working to revive its language.
John Hamilton, a.k.a. Chief Rolling Cloud was appointed Grand Sachem for Life in 1933 by his mother, Alice Storey, a direct descendant of Uncas, the great 17th-century leader of the Mohegan Nation, and of Tamaquashad, Grand Sachem of the Pequot Nation. In Mohegan tradition, the position of tribal leadership called Grand Sachem had always been hereditary. Hamilton was a key figure in the process leading to land-claims settlements for a number of unrecognized Indian nations — particularly for the so-called “state tribes.” These were tribes that had been recognized long before by individual state (or colonial) governments, but did not have the sovereign legal status that came with federal recognition. In the 1960s Hamilton filed a number of land claims authorized by the “Council of Descendants of Mohegan Indians,” which had some 300 members at the time.
In 1978, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) established a procedure for tribes to petition for federal recognition as sovereign nations. In that year, under the authority of the Council of Descendants, Hamilton submitted the Mohegan Tribe’s first petition for Federal recognition.
The Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut (MTIC), the federally recognized “Mohegan Sun” group, does not acknowledge John Hamilton as Grand Sachem. According to their published material, Harold Tantaquidgeon was their Chief prior to the era of Federal recognition. Harold Tantaquidgeon’s Mohegan heritage enriched his work with the Boy Scout Troop that he led. His mother, Gladys, the Tribe’s medicine woman, operated the Tribe’s museum.
In 1970 the Montville faction of the Mohegans, led by Courtland Fowler, expressed their dissatisfaction with Hamilton’s land-claims litigation and sought a new leader. The Hamilton supporters were said to have left the meeting. The remainder elected Fowler as their new leader. Notes of that Council meeting, however, refer to Hamilton as “Sachem.”
The tribe worked with the attorney (Jerome Griner) to press land claims through the 1970s, under John Hamilton’s direction. These actions were opposed by the Fowler faction. Jayne Fawcett was active in a property owners’ organization, with native and non-native members, which opposed the Hamilton land claims and the petition for federal recognition. Fawcett later served as the “Ambassador” of the MTIC, and she has written four books on Mohegan culture, including a biography of Gladys Tantaquidgeon.
John Hamilton died in 1988. In his will he named Eleanor Fortin Grand Sachem of the Mohegan Tribe. She became the leader of the “Hamilton group” in its contention with the “Fowler faction” over tribal policy. Despite their disagreements, both groups continued to participate in tribal activities and to consider themselves members of the Mohegan Tribe.
By 1989, the Fowler faction had taken up Hamilton’s 1978 petition for federal recognition, which had been dormant for some years. However, the BIA indicated its intention to turn down the petition. They said the Mohegan people had not demonstrated sufficient continuity in social community, and sufficient political authority and influence. One year later, a detailed response was submitted to the BIA’s proposed rejection — which included genealogies and other records carefully collected and preserved by Hamilton and his followers. Eleanor Fortin had allowed the MTIC researchers access to the Hamilton files, including records pertaining to the Mohegan Congregational Church in Montville. The researchers assured Fortin that if Federal recognition were achieved, it would cover the entire surviving Mohegan population. The BIA changed its mind on the Mohegans’ existence as an Indian tribe, citing these documents as decisive in showing “that the tribe did indeed have social and political continuity during the middle of the 20th century.”
Although the pivotal evidence came from records maintained by John Hamilton and his followers, they were excluded from the group that was recognized as the Mohegan Tribe. In 1990, the MTIC declared the tribe’s membership to be restricted to descendants from a single family, ca. 1860, saying that all other Mohegan families were extinct. This is the group to whom Federal recognition was given in 1994. By law, a Federally recognized tribe is completely free to determine its own membership. This group, the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut, now comports itself exclusively as the Mohegan Tribe — despite clear evidence that the true Mohegan Tribe encompasses a larger group, evidence that was crucial in their having achieved Federal recognition.
The final agreement between MTIC and the State extinguished all pending land claims. Native American Mohegans continue to function as a tribal unit independently of the MTIC, holding periodic gatherings and activities.