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NARRATOR: Today the Mashantucket Pequot is known for its extraordinary success in establishing a nearly $1-billion-a-year gambling operation. But long before their gaming success, the Pequot tribe endured a 350-year journey that nearly ended in total extinction.

The Pequot were the dominant native group in what is now Connecticut. Soon after the Europeans arrived, an outbreak of smallpox killed about 80 percent of the tribe, reducing it from about 13,000 to 2,500 Indians.

After a few years of peaceful trading, a growing Puritan presence led to escalating conflicts, captive-taking, and retaliatory killing. These actions culminated in Mystic in 1637, when a group of Colonial soldiers, aided by Mohegan and Narragansett allies, massacred 400 to 700 Pequots in a surprise attack at their Mystic fort. Most of the rest of the tribe were hunted down, to be killed or enslaved. Pequot dominion was ended.

 SKIP HAYWARD: And all the rest of the Pequots that could be found were rounded up and put together in one place back here in the county. That's where we find the treaty of 1638, in which the Pequots were given an ultimatum in order to live. And that's that they would not speak their language and they would stop practicing their religion and that type of thing. From 1667 when the Pequots were moved here up and through into more modern times, the Pequots weren't really encouraged to survive.

NARRATOR: Colonial Connecticut eventually established a 3,000-acre reserve for the remnants of the tribe. Over the years, both the reservation population and land base continued to shrink.

BRUCE KIRCHNER (Mashantucket Pequot Tribe): At one point the state was saying "well if the Indians don't cultivate the land then they don't deserve it" and land was taken away because the English came here and they said "we want to till the land, we'll make use of it." So the state used that as an opportunity to take land away from the tribe. There's been times where the tribe has asked for services from the state and the state would provide those services but take the land as payment.

NARRATOR: By the early 1970s there were only two elderly Pequot women living on the last 200 acres of reservation land. The tribal homeland seemed to be a heartbeat from extinction.

SKIP HAYWARD: The thought was that when the old ones die then this whole nightmare would go away and we could just turn the place into a state park.

NARRATOR: But Skip Hayward's grandmother had always encouraged him to hang on to the land at all costs. And that's what he set out to do.

JOSEPH CARTER: When I first came to the reservation, which is close to 10 years ago, there really wasn't any future. There was no promise of jobs, there was no promise of housing or anything. I was just invited back. And Skip said that we would be building and trying to make a living for some of the tribal members in order for us to bring back some of the people.

NARRATOR: The Pequot's massive success with gambling is only the latest effort to foster economic development and bring tribal members back to the reservation.

JOHN HOLDER (Mashantucket Pequot Tribe): The reason for the success is working together for a common goal. The casino wasn't the dream to be. The casino happened to be what we were allowed to do through the federal gaming laws. When we tried the greenhouse, the restaurant, a swine operation, wood cutting and all that sort of thing, it wasn't successful enough to provide jobs and housing for all the people. The casino has been able to do that for us.

NARRATOR: With annual profits from gaming estimated to be about $600 million, the tribe has built a community infrastructure on their now 1,200-acre reservation. They own an additional 1,800 acres of non-reservation property with plans to purchase another 600 acres.

BRUCE KIRCHNER: We have a land base now and we'll never let that go. That's something that's gonna be basic for generations and generations.

JOSEPH CARTER: It has made a drastic impact as far as change of lifestyle and the things that we can do for tribal people as far as health, education and housing. Along with fame and fortune comes a lot of problems. And we're realizing this and we're trying to educate our children on these problems, so hopefully they can jump over these hurdles.

JOHN HOLDER: We're Native American -- we're proud of it. We're not only succeeding economically within our own tribe, but we're helping the entire region through tourism, jobs. With our expansion we'll probably be one of the largest employers in the state of Connecticut. And we're here to stay and we're trying to make it as nice as we can.

Lessons of Long Pond

NARRATOR: The Pequot's experience in archaeological projects served them well when a residential construction project at Long Pond, near their reservation, accidentally uncovered an old Pequot burial site. The discovery of that site was painful to the tribe, but it allowed a rare window into ancient Pequot society.

THERESA BELL (Mashantucket Pequot Tribe): We've done a lot of archaeological sites and we have over 200 on the reservation. And they've all been farmsteads, homesteads. It was never -- they were all exciting but never as devastating as a site like this. And it was something that was very hard for the tribe to deal with. But we knew we had to deal with it and answer a lot of questions to ourselves and within ourselves and the whole tribe of how we would handle what happened here at this site. And it turned out to be a major cemetery.

KEVIN MCBRIDE: I think another concern of the tribe was that recognizing that most native burials are discovered accidentally and the vast majority of those burials are never reported because of the fear of individuals that projects will be stopped, land will be taken.

THERESA BELL: These sites are being destroyed left and right all over and God knows how many of them there are that have never been brought out in the open. And so the tribe made the decision to let the homeowner build his house here with the stipulations that no other ground disturbance.

CHARLENE PRINCE: To take them out of that site was very hard. The tribe feels that whatever we take out of the ground, or in the way that we take it out of the ground, has to be -- it has to be shown respect. The methods that you use -- putting everything back in its place the way it came out of the ground, with the ceremonial fires and whatever the offerings and the prayers.

THERESA BELL: So we believe we did what was right for these people. And now they are re-interred back at the Mashantucket cemetery where we know they'll be protected. They have their funerary objects with them. That's one thing that the tribe also believes in is not keeping the funerary objects.

And I think the biggest part that we learned from this is that they weren't the savages that people thought they were. The technology in that jewelry that they took with them was just unbelievable and it's never been seen before. And we think that that's exciting to show what Native American people were like then. And to make the stuff that they did with the tools that they must have used, was just -- it's amazing to the tribe.

EVIN MCBRIDE: Those burials that were removed -- my mandate was to study them, without using any destructive techniques. Study them, learn as much as I could and rebury them as quickly as possible.

If you compare the items from this cemetery with items throughout the northeast, you'll see that they're identical. Certain effigies, duck effigies, crescents, waterfowl, turtles, some of the necklaces themselves are identical to what are found in Iroquoian sites in New York State.

What it means is -- and this is a point we've completely missed -- is that these items and objects continue to be of traditional importance to the natives and that the Pequots are involved in this regionwide network of ritual exchange, social exchange, information exchange.

As we tell our stories

TRUDIE LAMB RICHMOND: I feel very strong connections to my ancestors. I guess thatís why I really insist on being here at Schagticoke. I feel those connections that Iím passing on to my children and to my grandchildren: How important it is to maintain their Schagticoke ancestry because we have some very important legacies that we must not let go, that we must not let die out.

This was used -- these sharp points here -- the thorns are off of the Locust tree. And Schagticoke people -- Iím sure other native people also -- used these as fishing hooks. And theyíre quite treacherous. So not only are they protection for the tree, but this is just one way of using the environment. All the things surrounding us here were used and are still used in so many ways. For example, I collect any number of medicines here. I collect sassafras, black root, birch, jack-in-the-pulpit. And I use these things to heal myself, to heal my family.

Native people believe that we are related to all things and where our stories come from. The story is that stories come from the stone people -- from the boulders. It gives a lot of strength but also an understanding as to our connection to everything. So not only do we have respect for trees, for plants, for animals, but for stones, for boulders. So something like this boulder is very special to me.

DOVIE THOMASON: This is one of the stories of beginnings that was given to me by Joe Brushac and Princess Red Wing, both Algonquian story tellers, when I first moved to the east.

Before this world came to be, there lived in the sky country an ancient chief. And in the center of his land stood a great tree with four white roots stretching to the four directions. It was from this beautiful tree that all good things came to be.

As it came to pass, the tree was uprooted and the young wife of the chief fell through the hole that was created. As she fell and tumbled she reached up clutching, and grabbed a fistful of seeds, which she held in her hand as she fell.

Far below, there was only water. And the water creatures looking up saw someone falling. "Look! Someone is falling! She will need a place to be!" Great Turtle came up from the bottom of the sea, which was his home. And as he reached the surface he spoke. "There's room for her on my back."

"She will need a place to walk around though," Duck said. "Then dive, dive to the bottom of the sea and find earth and bring it to put on my back." And so Duck dove as far as he could but failed.

When he came up Loon agreed to try, and dove again, trying harder but couldn't reach the bottom. And Beaver, he tried and again failed.

Finally, there was just little Muskrat who spoke up: "I will try." And she dove, swimming deeper and deeper until her lungs felt like they would burst. At last her paw touched the bottom and she grabbed a speck of earth, which she brought with her to the surface and put on Turtle's back.

"Spread it around," Turtle said. And they spread it and spread it until this whole place came to be. Now two great swans lift it up from the earth and caught the woman as she fell, lowering her gently to the surface of the earth.

When her feet first touched the earth, she dropped the seeds in her hands. And then the plants began to grow. And from them all life on this new world began.



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Last modified: September 03, 2012