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Our turn will come

NARRATOR: In the 1600s, what is now Connecticut was home to nearly 30 Indian groups. Connecticut now recognizes five tribes within its borders as units of self-government.

The Mashantucket Pequot in Ledyard have been federally recognized as a sovereign nation since 1983.

The neighboring Mohegans in Montville gained federal recognition in 1994. The three remaining state-recognized tribes -- Schagticoke in Kent, Pawcatuck Eastern Pequot of North Stonington, and the Golden Hill Paugussett of Trumbull and Colchester, are all seeking federal recognition in order to insure their cultural and economic survival.

MELISSA FAWCETT SAYET: Where we all come together is that we absolutely, 100-percent tow the line on our sovereignty as individual separate nations. We would like to see the outside support that sovereignty to the same degree that we support it among ourselves.

TRUDIE LAMB RICHMOND: Just the principal of being recognized by the federal government is important, that we need to have that kind of relationship between two groups. We feel like we're the step-children or something. But in addition to that, what federal recognition does is enables us to survive economically, socially and politically.

NARRATOR: The Mohegan Tribe capped off decades of effort to regain its sovereignty when it finally received federal recognition. Federal status qualifies a tribe for federal grants and loans, and other rights, including the right to engage in gaming. But the application process insists on tribal continuity.

BUTCH LYDEM (Schagticoke Tribe): When you are applying for federal recognition, one of the criteria is that you have to demonstrate from the late 1700's to the present that there indeed existed a tribal government, a functioning people that lived as Native Americans on a given reservation.

At the same time, you had state laws which prohibited folks from meeting. This is how a lot of Native Americans disseminate into the white culture and that's where we are. I guess the federal people got surprised when all these folks came up with all this information, all this documentation. They didn't think that they could demonstrate it, but they have. We're waiting. Our turn will come.

NARRATOR: For most of his life, Chief Big Eagle, the reclusive patriarch of the Golden Hill Paugussetts lives on the tribe's tiny reservation in Trumbull.

His sons Moonface Bear and Quiet Hawk have each made headlines by vigorous land claims, casino proposals, and tax-free cigarette sales.

CHIEF BIG EAGLE (Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe): When you have the first reservation -- you have people from the first reservation set aside and they have lived on Indian land for 350 years. God damn it -- don't ask me what needs to be done! Why aren't we not federally recognized? Why? It shows you, nobody cares.

NARRATOR: For Big Eagle, whose ancestors were granted the first reservation in America, the need to prove his tribe's continuous existence is by definition demeaning.

CHIEF BIG EAGLE: How can he with the stroke of his pen say I'm a citizen of his country? I'm not a citizen of his country, he's a citizen of my country. He don't recognize me.

Not Free to be Indian

NARRATOR: The relentless onrush of Europeans into Connecticut in the 1600s made it especially difficult for Connecticut's native people to preserve their culture.

MIKKI AGANSTATA: The ones here in the Northeast are really set apart by having the first contact, of having weathered the storm—the ferocity of this frontal assault on Indian culture than began on these shores.

TRUDIE LAMB RICHMOND: A lot has been lost and we don't want any more, you know, to go, and we don't have our language and I feel very sensitive about that. And when I hear other Indian spoken -- my husband for example is Mohawk -- and when I hear that exchange, it's hard to describe the kind of strength and support that it gives to me and how important it is.

CHARLENE PRINCE (Mashantucket Pequot Tribe): There's not much documentation about the culture, about the ceremonial practices, and what have you. The reason being is because of the massacre that took place. So anything that I can learn is very important to me. And one of the first things that I learned when I was probably about 5 or 6 years old is my mother taught me how to count.

Pequot language is not spoken fluently and there's very few bits and pieces left. So when she taught us to count she used to make us pass around a medicine ball. We'd pass it around in the living room and we'd have to say up to ten, one through ten. (Counts to 10 in Pequot) And we did that over and over and over again. And I still remember to this day.

NARRATOR: Mikki Aganstata moved to Connecticut in 1978 to become state Coordinator of Indian Affairs. Now a Dept. of Public Utilities employee, Aganstata works weekends at her Native-American food concession at many area powwows.

MIKKI AGANSTATA: The stress of having been surrounded, the decimation of numbers of tribal peoples from disease. as well as the push westward for land almost without fail reached its highest degree in Southern New England. As we look around today, that's the most dense population of European immigrants still today. So the assault, once it began, never let up. From the time that Europeans really began to settle in heavily in Connecticut, Indians were not free to be Indian.

BUTCH LYDEM: The Europeans started breaking up Indian people, forcing them to live off the land, forcing them to go to their schools, forcing them in their religions. And then the intermarriage starting, and just kept moving forward in that direction -- separating people, keeping them off their land or putting them on reservations. Indians are not from reservations, the land is Indian land.

NARRATOR: After a career as an auto service manager, Schagticoke tribal member Butch Lydem became a fulltime craftsperson.

BUTCH LYDEM: I believe that the creator hasn't let us develop the way a lot of other tribes are developing because it isn't our time yet. There's too many environmental concerns that we need to address and I'm trying to play a role in that.

My mom was born on Schagticoke, back in the early 1900s. And she, from the time I was young, preached to me - not preached to me, I'm sorry mom -- spoke to me about how important it was not to forget who we are, even though it wasn't popular at the time. And the native people kind of put themselves on the back shelf because of the problems that they faced admitting that they were Indian. She wouldn't let me do that. At that time it wasn't very popular to be Indian because of the ridicule that we faced. But I made it through and I'm very proud of what I am.

I've been carving for the last five or six years, I learned it through my Uncle Falcon up on Oneida. He's shown me quite a bit. He's brought me closer to the traditional ways that our people enjoy. And before that I was in the private sector, a service manager of a couple of stores.

This here is a walking stick that I've carved. It's carved out of maple. The maple comes from my reservation. It's a way of me showing respect to our land and the creator for giving me something to carve and to make beautiful. As you can see the carvings in it, many of my carvings are representative of the plants that are on my reserve.


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Last modified: September 03, 2012