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Gambling success brings controversy for American tribe

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation members are seen gathered at Mashantucket, the tribal reservation in Connecticut in this 1996 handout photograph...
An undated handout photo shows the US$700 million MGM Grand tower at the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation at Mashantucket, the tribal reservation in ...

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation members are seen gathered at Mashantucket, the tribal reservation in Connecticut in this 1996 handout photograph...

An undated handout photo shows the US$700 million MGM Grand tower at the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation at Mashantucket, the tribal reservation in ...

Most of the past 400 years have been miserable for the Mashantucket Pequot. Almost annihilated by English settlers and the smallpox, the survivors were enslaved and scattered. Reduced to just a few dozen members by the 1970s, they grew lettuce and tapped maple syrup, living in poverty in trailers on a scrap of Connecticut woods.
Gambling has changed all that.
Now, they own Foxwoods, the biggest casino in North America, and the tribe's 800 to 900 members are rich. Last month, they sported fox furs and tuxedos and sipped champagne to celebrate the opening of a US$700 million extension to their empire, the MGM Grand tower.
But the tribe has found that with this success comes controversy.
Since the tribe won federal recognition in 1983, critics have questioned the authenticity of their tribal ancestry, saying that many people turned out to be Pequots when the prospect of a casino entered the picture.
Some had considered the tribe to be extinct, wiped out by the settlers and other native tribes, including the Mohegan, the traditional enemies of the Pequot, in the 1636-1637 Pequot War.
Hitting back at these critics, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum opened an exhibition on May 17, the day after the new tower was opened, called "Race: Are We So Different?"
"The American public has this idea of native people that's ingrained and it's based upon a Plains tradition," museum research director Kevin McBride said, alluding to the image of Indians in Western states "with long hair, hunting buffalo, with a teepee."
"That carries into what people expect the Pequots to look like and act like," McBride said. "They're struck by the fact there's a lot of diversity in terms of ethnicity."
One of the first items on display in the museum is a oversized photograph of some 100 tribal members ranging from fair-skinned blondes and red-heads to blacks and people who look more like the classic image of native Americans.
The diversity stems from the many mixed marriages over the last 400 years with people of different ethnicities.
Whatever the controversies over race, the business side is has come a long way since the days of bingo halls on Indian reservations in the 1980s.


Updated : 2021-06-19 14:54 GMT+08:00