Friday, May 23, 2008

The Tribes In The Media: Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Government Cuts

In today's Tribes In The Media series, which portrays how Indians are portrayed in the media, we have re-published an article on the ongoing controversy over Mashantucket Pequot's decision to cut their government budget:

Not A Grand Time For Tribe
The Day Newspaper
By David Collins
Published on 5/23/2008

This should have been a week of celebration for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, in the wake of the star-studded opening of their new MGM Grand casino, but it's not working out that way. Instead, it seems they've got a nasty insurrection on their hands, an angry constituency that is calling for, among a lot of other things, impeachment of the council.

The extent of the problem was apparent Thursday on the reservation, in front of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court, where a couple of dozen tribal members gathered in the rain to hear the outcome of a hearing on their petition to take part in deciding how $40 million will be cut from the government budget.

Many of the tribal members expect to learn as early as today that they may lose their government jobs as part of those cuts.

”The (Mashantucket) constitution says 'We the People,' not 'We the Council,' said Bob Hayward, brother of former Tribal Chairman Skip Hayward, who was trying to stay dry under a shed roof, left outside, like the others, because there was not enough room inside the small court.

”What this is really all about is having a voice.”

Keri Spears, director of tribal family services and the aunt of Tribal Chairman Michael Thomas, was among those huddled under umbrellas, angry about the cuts. “When we came to Mashantucket the intent was to create the best of services, which is now being taken away,” said Spears, who has had a job with the tribe for 32 years but believes she may now lose it.

”This was not the intent for Mashantucket,” she said, adding that the government plans to tell tribal members to seek social services from the state, not the tribe.

Some members were wearing their tribal work uniforms, and a lot of the anger was rank-and-file resentment focused on the big salaries earned by councilors.

It didn't help that a gossip column this week in The New York Daily News reported on what it called a custody battle between the tribal chairman and a former girlfriend over their 4-year-old daughter. The column quoted the lawyer for the girlfriend as saying that Thomas has been refusing to pay court-ordered child support of $850 a week, despite his base salary of $21,567 a week. The column kept popping up in comments by members Thursday.

The petition was signed by more than a third of the tribal membership, but it appears as if it will sink finally in a legal quagmire - the hearing was eventually recessed until next week - and probably not much else can be done to stop the bite of job cuts.

But tribal members made clear Thursday they intend to push on, with constitutional reforms and maybe a petition for a recall of the council. The Pequot tribal councilors not only have budget problems, they have enormous political problems. Closed-door deliberations and arrogance, it appears, may be part of their undoing. I felt sort of sorry Thursday for Jackson King, the council's lawyer, and Thomas Londregan, sitting as a tribal judge, as they tried to sort out it all out, refereeing in court a family fight that ought to have been settled at home.

At one point Londregan asked King if all the signers of the petition could have a copy of the memo he wrote to the council, describing its legal inadequacies. He agreed.

”It's their paper,” King said.

This is the opinion of David Collins.