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NARRATOR: Although the Mohegans kept their faith with the English and later the Americans, the tribe suffered from land loss and destitution after the American Revolution and well into the 20th Century.


JOE BRUCHAC: I think one of the things that is not understood or fully appreciated is that to give one’s word is regarded as a sacred trust among native people to this day. The irony about it, of course, is that European promises to Indians have almost all been broken. Yet the Indian word was kept and Uncas is the first person that we see in that position: The faithful Indian in the very best sense -- not a stereotype sense -- but a person faithful to their word, and that faith being kept throughout the generations.


DAVID LEFF (Connecticut Dept. of Environmental Protection): Over time people’s notions of what was due the tribe and what their responsibilities were and the sense of mutual friendship disappeared. And in the 19th Century, the system of overseers of Indians that the state had was very cruel and resulted in the loss of property through deals that could be described almost as shady if not worse. And so really, historically, a great wrong has been done to these people.

NARRATOR: In 1907, when “Buffalo Bill” Cody visited the Mohegan Royal Burial Gounds in Norwich, Connecticut, it was a show of respect to the place where Mohegan tribal leaders had been buried for centuries.


MELISSA TANTAQUIDGEON: This burial ground is particularly sacred and important to the Mohegan people because all who have been buried here represent the lineage of Uncas. The tribe owned these lands according to an original agreement that was made between Uncas and the City of Norwich in 1659, when Uncas deeded the city to Norwich -- with the exception of the 16 acres in the middle of Norwich, which he had agreed with the settlers would always remain the Mohegan burial ground.


What remains at this burial ground is a scant eighth of an acre, when originally it was a full 16 acres. Those 16 acres were desecrated as houses were built in this area and more and more non-Indian people came into the community.


In the mid-1840s, the best recorded desecration of this burial took place and was witnessed by our Medicine Woman Emma Baker. Emma came here with her grandmother and watched while piles of bodies with pipe in them were being burned and people were being excavated in order for all the homes that are now in this area to be built.


NARRATOR: Uncas sold or gave away vast tracts of land. But until 1790, the tribe held 2,700 acres in  reservation. As desecrations and theft of tribal land by corrupt state overseers continued through the 1800s, the tribe successfully petitioned the state to disband the reservation in 1872. Once-tribal lands became privately owned by tribal members and others. In the early 20th Century, Uncas’s former village at Shantok was turned into a state park.


DAVID LEFF: Well, as part of the settlement of the Mohegan land claims, we were to turn Fort Shantok back to the tribe. And I say, “back to the tribe” because originally it belonged to them.


Shantok had been part of the state park system since beginning in the 1920s and the actual getting the job done of making the transfer fell to me. The business with the different kinds of legal maneuvers and documents went back and forth and lasted to the very day of the transfer. Shortly before the ceremony was to take place. I came down here in my old yellow truck and with the document in hand. I drove in and handed off the deed to Roland Harris. The ceremony that followed was a very emotional experience and it’s something I’ll never forget as long as I live.


NARRATOR: Uncas was the first Mohegan sachem. Through the centuries many others followed his path. Tribal Elder Roberta Cooney has known many chiefs.


ROBERTA COONEY: The Mohegan chiefs that I have known all have followed Uncas’s stance as far as being loyal to his people. They all had the same feelings to do for their people, to do the right thing by their people, to be honest with their people.


There was Occum, who was my grandfather’s brother. He was a peace chief.  Chief Occum was Lemuel Occum Fielding. Lloyd Harris was Chief Pegee. My grandfather was Chief Matagha, he was a war chief --   Burrill Hyde Fielding.


NARRATOR: Loretta Roberge is also a granddaughter of Chief Matagha.


LORETTA ROBERGE: He was a great person because he always tried to keep the tribe together. He was the one who tried to keep the wigwams and the powwows going, which was a dying tradition.


And then I knew Cortland Fowler, who was the next chief. He was absolutely wonderful. He had a very, very kind gentle way about him.


And I forgot Harold Tantaquidgeon was there too before Cortland. And he was, too, because he was so involved in all the activities with children and making sure that nothing was ever lost.


So I have a great deal of respect for all of them, for that they’ve done.


And then the last one we had, and we still have, is Ralph Sturges. And he was one of the main forces for us getting federally recognized. He worked extremely hard.


NARRATOR: On March 7th, 1994, the Mohegan Tribe of Montville received official federal recognition.


RALPH STURGES (Lifetime Chief, Mohegan Tribe): When we got recognition, the one thing I told the people in that tribe is there’s three words that they got to remember: They’ve got to have perseverance, honor and integrity. They’ve gotta have that. That’s three things that Uncas actually stood for. And those are three words that it’s very simple for any human being to live by. But you’ve got to do it. You can’t get carried away with money and crazy things. They gotta remember what they stand for and what they should be trying to develop, you know?  


I’m not saying that everybody does it but they should. They should remember what their forefathers said.


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Last modified: September 03, 2012