Saturday, August 30, 2008

Photos: Casino Of The Wind At Mohegan Sun

Photo: Poker Room At The Casino Of The Wind On Opening Day

Video: Inside Margaritaville At The Casino Of The Wind

Tribe's WNBA Team Beats Atlanta 98-72

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The Connecticut Sun beat Atlanta last night by a score of 98-72, clinching a playoff spot as they remain in first place in the Eastern Conference. The Sun's record is 18-10, leading second place Detroit (17-11) in the Eastern Connecticut by one game.

Svetlana Abrosimova, the former UConn star who signed with the Connecticut Sun on Wednesday, did not play last night as originally expected but will make her debut tomorrow against Seattle. Connecticut Sun's addition of Abrosimova to the team makes a total of seven UConn basketball alumni on the team's roster.

The Connecticut Sun will play Seattle in the Mohegan Sun Arena tomorrow (Sunday) at 1 p.m. The game will be televised on ABC TV.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Photo: Birches Bar And Grill Inside The Mohegan Sun Casino

Menu And Restaurant Hours Change At Birches Bar And Grill

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Updated with change in restaurant hours

Birches Bar and Grill, one of Mohegan Sun's restaurants popular with tribal elders and others, will be eliminating their breakfast selections on September 1. It's unclear if other changes to the menu are planned.

Birches is one of a few restaurants inside the casino in which the profits go directly to the tribal government, according to officials.

Twice per week, elders whom are age 62 and over can eat for free at either Birches Bar and Grill, Fidelia's or the two buffets. This is one reason why Birches has become a popular restaurant for some tribal members.

Along with menu changes, Birches is also changing the time that they open. Birches will now open at 11:30 a.m. and not at 9:00 in the morning, according to sources.

Prior to being remodeled and named Birches, the restaurant was called the Uncas American Grill and Mohegan Territory.

Ballot Box Access Denied This Afternoon

By Ken Davison
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Tribal members who intended to drop their ballots into the ballot box at the tribal government office this afternoon found the building's front doors locked.

The tribal government let "non-essential employees" go early today, around noon, due to the onset of the Labor Day weekend.

Unfortunately, the tribal council and upper management did not take into consideration that today is the last weekday for members to drop their ballots into the ballot box.

I went to the government building this afternoon. The front door was locked and nobody was inside. A notice on the front door directed people to the back door. It too was locked. Another tribal member, an elder who lives an hour away, was standing at the back door wondering what to do.

For others who may be wondering the same thing, there's only one thing to do: Go to the government building just before 9 a.m. on Sunday, when the ballots are due to be counted, and give your ballot to a member of the election committee.

According to the instruction letter that accompanied the ballot, "All ballots must be mailed back in the official envelope provided and received via U.S. Mail no later than 4:30 p.m. on Friday, August 29th. You may deposit your ballot envelope in the official ballot box during regular business hours up until 4:30 p.m. on that date. The ballot box will be located at the fron security desk of the Tribal Office. Ballots not received in the official envelpes or any envelope containing more than one marked ballot will be rejected automatically. The Election Committee will accept hand-delivered ballot envelopes just before the counting process begins around 9:00 a.m. on August 31st."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tribe's WNBA Basketball Team Beats Indiana 84-58

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The Connecticut Sun beat Indiana by a score of 84-58, maintaining their first place spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Connecticut Sun made 66 percent of their shots in the first half, leading 54-25 at halftime.

The Connecticut Sun will play again on Friday at Atlanta and will play Seattle at home in the Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday. Sunday's home game will be televised on ABC.

Tribe's Pennsylvania Racetrack-Slot Parlor Reports Less Than 1 Percent Increase In Slot Revenues Last Week

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Last week's slot revenue at the Tribe's Pocono Downs racetrack-slot parlor in Pennsylvania was about the same as last year (increase of less than one percent), when the facility had half the number of slot machines that it has now.

A month and a half has gone by since the expansion at the Tribe's Pocono Downs racetrack-slot parlor in Pennsylvania opened and, although some slot figures have been reported, it is too early to tell if the facility will become profitable.

In fact, tribal members will not have hard numbers on the facility's performance until the middle of December when the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority files its annual audit report for the fiscal year that ends on September 30.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board does, however, issue weekly slot revenue figures and last week's slot revenues increased less than 1 percent over the same week last year.

No expense figures are reported to the public by the Gaming Control Board.

The expansion at Pocono Downs more than doubled the number of slot machines in July, adding 1,276 slot machines to the existing 1,203 machines for a grand total of 2,479 machines that are now at the facility.

Six weeks have gone by since opening the expansion and the amount wagered (the handle) at the machines has increased by 19.1 percent over the same period last year, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

According to these numbers, the two best weeks were the first two weeks after the expansion opened. In each of the first two weeks after the expansion opened to the public, the total amount wagered at the machines was about $55 million. In the four subsequent weeks (all during August), the total amount wagered was $50 million, $51 million, $49 million and, last week, $44 million. All amounts referred to have been rounded to the nearest million.

These figures only reflect the total amount wagered at the machines and do not reflect the amount paid out to customers (about 91 percent) or any other expenses.

During the week before Labor Day last year, the amount wagered was $42 million. This year, after doubling the number of machines, the amount wagered was $44 million. The actual percentage increase for last week when compared to the year before was less than 1 percent even though the number of machines has since been doubled.

For the entire six week period since the expansion opened, slot machine wagers have gone up by about 19 percent (19.1%). But, as you can see from the above figures, the amounts wagered at Pocono Downs have trended downward since the July expansion opening culminating in last week's increase of less than one percent (0.55%).

The Mount Airy Casino, about 20 miles from Pocono Downs as the crow flies, opened in October 2007 and has since drawn customers from Pocono Downs. Mount Airy has 2,523 slot machines.

Although tribal members will not know the expense side of the Pocono Downs until the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority's audited financial statements are made public in December, the weekly slot numbers published over the coming weeks could give us a sense of whether Pocono Downs will continue to lose money.

The amounts wagered would need to increase dramatically for the facility to become profitable. The Mount Airy Casino has been the closest competition to Pocono Downs although it is still possible that one or two small hotel-slot parlors (with 500 slot machines each) in the Pocono Mountains could be approved. A large hotel-slot parlor, about 70 miles from Pocono Downs, is scheduled to open in the Spring of 2009 which could further drain customers from Pocono Downs.

Note: Included in the number of slot machines at Pocono Downs are virtual electronic table games, including blackjack and video poker.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tribe's WNBA Basketball Team Resumes Play Thursday At Indiana

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Updated with note on team signing former UConn star

The Connecticut Sun basketball team will resume its schedule Thursday night at Indiana after breaking for about a month so that league players could attend the Olympics.

Connecticut Sun currently leads the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of second place New York. Indiana is in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, trailing the Connecticut Sun by four games.

The Connecticut Sun will play again on Friday at Atlanta and will play Seattle at home in the Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday. Sunday's home game will be televised on ABC.

The Connecticut Sun signed former University of Connecticut star Svetlana Abrosimova to play for the rest of the season. Abrosimova will join the Connecticut Sun when the team plays Friday against Atlanta. Abrosimova was previously with the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx but did not play this season because she wanted to spend the time to practice on the Russian Olympic team. She averaged 7.4 points and 6.6 rebounds during the Olympic games.

Tonight Is Last Night Of Wednesday Fireworks At Mohegan Sun

The Tribe In The Media: Rhode Island's Twin River Dilemma

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This installment of The Tribe In The Media series is an article in today's The Day newspaper on the Twin River racetrack-casino's financial problems. Keep in mind that the article below says that Mohegan's former outiside management company "walked away with an estimated $600 million buyout deal" but, in reality, it will turn out to be over $1 billion over the 15-year buyout deal that ends on December 31, 2014.

Will Slots Hall Make It? Place Your Bets
By David Collins
August 27, 2008

Friday looms as the deadline for the owners of the Twin River in Rhode Island to either come to terms with their lenders or consider a last resort, filing in bankruptcy court for protection from creditors.

A spokesman for the slots hall, Patti Doyle, who has raised the possibility of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in assessing Twin River's money problems, said Tuesday they expect to “come right up against” Friday's deadline to renegotiate the terms of their loans.

It's an improbable showdown for two of the principals in the project, eastern Connecticut developer Len Wolman and South African casino mogul Sol Kerzner, two of the wizards behind the creation of the Mohegan Sun.

When the Mohegans' first partners walked away with an estimated $600 million buyout deal, including 5 percent of the annual gross revenues of Mohegan Sun, it sure looked like they had the golden touch.

Even more curious, their subsequent creation, Twin River, is actually doing well.

Bucking the national downward trend in the gambling business, the slot machine numbers in Rhode Island are up, as much as 12 percent over last year's.

And that makes state lawmakers happy, given that the converted greyhound park in Lincoln, R.I., is contributing some $250 million to the state budget.

It is also a good reason why Rhode Island officials have been cool to suggestions from the Twin River principals that the state help them out of their financial straights by lowering the amount of slot revenue they have to contribute to the state budget.

Rhode Island gets a 60 percent share of the slot win, kind of a staggering number compared to the 25 percent Connecticut gets from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.

You can see how Rhode Island lawmakers might have heard simply “blah, blah blah” in listening to the pitch from Twin River principals to make a one-time payment of $500 million in exchange for cutting the state's long-term share of the slot win by more than half.

The state has offered some givebacks, though, allowing Twin River the opportunity to stay open 24 hours on weekends, to create a casino-style player reward program and to use coupons for free slot machine play to entice customers.

So what's gone wrong in Rhode Island and why is Twin River at this financial precipice?

Industry observers suggest that the owners, BLB Investors, including Wolman and Kerzner, simply paid too much when they bought the aging track in 2005 for $440 million. The other principal bidder, MGM Mirage, reportedly offered considerably less.

BLB invested another $220 million in renovations, adding new restaurants and an arena, and installed 4,500 slot machines, making it one of the largest slots halls in the country.

But in the end they paid a casino price for a facility that still doesn't and can never have table games or a hotel, two casino mainstays.

To make matters worse, Wolman and Kerzner have actually wacked their Connecticut golden goose. Slot numbers are down at Mohegan Sun, and some of that is clearly related to the success at Twin River.

Surely high gas prices have a lot to do with declines in slot win in Connecticut that correspond to increases in Rhode Island. After all, a slot machine is a slot machine, and players in Massachusetts and Rhode Island must see the savings in gambling closer to home in a tough economy.

By Friday, we'll know whether the Twin River owners can wiggle out of their financial squeeze. But the long-term effect of Twin River's marketing promotions and new customer loyalty programs may continue to squeeze the Connecticut casinos for a long time to come.

This Is The Opinion Of David Collins.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Editorial: Time To Play Hardball

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On Friday, a major credit rating agency has placed Waterford Gaming and affiliates under review for a possible downgrade.

Waterford Gaming, owned by principles that control Trading Cove Associates which used to manage the Mohegan Sun until their 7-year management contract was bought out under a deal that pays TCA 5 percent of every dollar spent at Mohegan Sun for 15 years, also owns the competing Twin River racetrack-casino in Rhode Island.

The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority is experiencing financial difficulties. MTGA reported an 89 percent decline in profits for the period of April through May but since Trading Cove Associates is paid a portion of revenues (before expenses) and not based on profits (like it used to be in the earlier 7-year contract that was bought out), their payments from MTGA have not suffered much.

Until this week. Under the 15-year buyout agreement, TCA will not receive 5 percent of the revenues from future expansions, such as the Casino of the Wind expansion that is scheduled to open Friday. That doesn't mean that TCA won't try to get some of that money generated by the Casino of the Wind.

Under the 15-year buyout agreement, a clause says that if TCA's payments are "materially" affected by a (future) expansion, then TCA can bring MTGA to court. In accounting terms, "materiality" is generally defined as a 5 percent variance.

So, for instance, if the slot machine revenue at Mohegan Sun (excluding the Casino of the Wind) goes down by more than 5% after the Casino of the Wind opens this week, then TCA may bring MTGA to court to seek more money from MTGA.

What can MTGA do about it? That isn't clear. After all, the Tribe signed a contract knowing the "materiality" clause was in that contract.

Last fiscal year, MTGA paid TCA about $78 million - which is 5% of revenues generated at Mohegan Sun. TCA doesn't get paid anything related to the Tribe's Pocono Downs racetrack-casino in Pennsylvania. MTGA distributed about $80 million to the tribal government, roughly the same as it paid TCA last fiscal year. In other words, TCA is getting paid a lot of money and it is part of the reason MTGA has experienced financial problems.

Even if the economy hadn't gone sour, MTGA still would have been in financial difficulty. But the 15-year TCA contract was and is a disaster. MTGA is expected to pay TCA over $1 billion over the course of that 15-year contract.

MTGA simply cannot give in to any future TCA demand. Yes, we signed a contract. But TCA knew that payments to them under that contract would result in financial difficulties at MTGA.

MTGA should seek a workout agreement with TCA before it gets to court. At the least, we should find a way so that MTGA never pays TCA more than we did last year. There are ways that can be done without breaking the contract. This route would also involve working out agreements with other creditors as well. This route is no different than what the TCA principles are debating with their own Twin River racetrack-casino in order to save that racetrack-casino.

Instead of trying to save face, MTGA and the Tribal Council should be focusing on saving MTGA.

Tribes In The Media: Federal Court Strikes Down Schagticoke Tribe's Petition For Federal Recogntion

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This installment of The Tribes In The Media series is an AP article on today's federal court decision that strikes down the Schagticoke Tribe's motion for a summary judgement that could have resulted in their federal recogntion. The Schagticoke Tribe is located in Kent, Connecticut and had their 2004 preliminary federal recognition decision reversed. The Schagticokes are recognized by the State of Connecticut:

AP Article
August 26, 2008

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - A federal judge on Tuesday turned back the latest attempt by the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation to win federal recognition.

U.S. District Court Judge Peter Dorsey denied the tribe's motion for a summary judgment that would have granted recognition. Dorsey also granted government motions to affirm the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs' decision to deny the tribe's petition.

In a 52-page decision, Dorsey rejected the Schaghticoke's argument that powerful political forces opposed to a third Indian casino in Connecticut helped reverse an earlier agency decision to acknowledge the tribe.

In its motion, the tribe detailed a March 30, 2004 meeting attended by three Republican members of the Connecticut Congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. and then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

In a deposition, Norton said that Wolf and the Connecticut delegation - which included U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, and former Reps. Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons - pressed her to overturn the decision.

She said Wolf threatened to ask President Bush to replace her.

But Norton later testified that she did not take that threat seriously.

"Although one may be sympathetic to (the tribe's) suspicions that powerful political forces interfered with an independent review of their tribal recognition, the court must accept that the evidence presented at face value, in particular the testimony of the agency decisionmakers that they were not unduly pressured by particular politicians or the political climate at large," Dorsey wrote.

The tribe, which has a reservation in Kent, appeared to win recognition in January 2004 from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. But state and federal officials successfully appealed, arguing that the tribe had substantial gaps in evidence related to its social continuity and political governance.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the ruling shows the tribe's recognition claim was meritless.

"One by one, the judge has batted away the Schaghticoke claims, leaving no shred of legal or factual support," Blumenthal said. "While they may appeal to the federal court of appeals, this recourse would seem as futile and ill-founded as the effort rejected today, and we are prepared to fight it as vigorously as we did this one."

Messages were left seeking comment from the tribe.

Shinnecock Indian Powwow This Weekend

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The Shinnecock Tribe of Long Island, N.Y., will hold their four-day annual powwow this weekend, beginning Friday (August 29th) and ending Monday, September 1st.

The powwow opens at 3 p.m. on Friday and at 10 a.m. on Saturday through Monday. Entrance fees are $10 for adults and $7 for children.

Tribal members can take their cars on the ferry in New London, CT., to Orient Point, Long Island. From there: Route 25 West to Rte 105 * 105 South to Rte 24 * Left at Rte 24 * South to Sunrise Hwy, Rte 27 * Right on Exit 7, Stony Brook University * Left at light * 1/2 miles make a right on to Reservation * Follow signs to Powwow grounds.

For more information call Shinnecock tribal office at 631-283-6143.

Kansas Chooses Two Of The Four Casino Developers: Mohegan Will Learn Its Fate In Mid-September

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Kansas' Lottery Gaming Facility Review Board has selected two of the four casino developers under its plan to have a megacasino complex in four distinct regions of the state.

Penn National Gaming was chosen for Cherokee County and Harrahs Entertainment was chosen for Sumner County. The Mashantucket Pequots' casino arm pulled out of the bidding contest for a casino in Sumner County citing low rates of return if it were to be the chosen developer/manager.

The Mohegan Tribe is involved in a partnership (Legends Sun $767 million proposal) seeking a casino in the Wyandotte County-Kansas City region of the state. The other three bidders and their proposed casinos' development costs are Pinnacle ($624 million), Golden Heartland Inc ($630 million) and Kansas Speedway ($705 million).

Hearings will be held for Wyandotte and Ford County on September 2nd and 3rd and a decision will be made for these counties on September 18th and 19th.

Kansas is the only state that mandates that casinos will be state-owned and the state would receive at least 22 percent of the gambling revenue. A Kansas Supreme Court confirmed in a June ruling that the state would own and operate the casinos. The casino developers/managers would be given 15-year management contracts.

The state review board has the option of rejecting all applicants and sending their proposed contracts back to the Kansas Lottery for more negotiations. Applicants would still have to go through background checks by the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission.

Photo: Earth Entrance Escalator At Mohegan Sun Casino

Mohegan Gaming Authority Credit Rating Under Review For Another Possible Downgrade

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Updated with Moody's statement at end of article

A major credit rating company, Moody's Investor's Service, announced last week that it will be reviewing the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority's financial situation once again and the result of its review may yet be another downgrade of its credit rating.

A company's credit rating affects the interest rate it pays when it borrows money. For the last three months, MTGA recorded $23 million in interest expense alone on its debt. Once the fiscal year ends on September 30, MTGA is expected to record between $90 million and $100 million in interest expense for the entire fiscal year on its $1.46 billion debt (both long and short-term debt as of June 30, 2008).

This amount does not include the interest expense on the $1.2 billion that MTGA is expected to borrow to complete for the expansions in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Although a downgraded credit rating will not affect the $1.2 billion in expansion borrowings, future borrowings would be affected.

Next summer, MTGA must pay off a $330 million bond offering and other borrowings related to the proposed casino in Washington (with the Cowlitz Tribe) and Wisconsin (with the Menominee Tribe). MTGA does not have the cash to pay the debt off so it will be forced to refinance these borrowings and it is then that a lower credit rating will come into play.

MTGA has benefitted from lower interest rates over the past year. The $1.2 billion line of credit that MTGA secured for its expansions is structured in such a way that it will fluctuate depending upon market conditions. If the prime rate goes down, as it has in the past year, then the interest rate MTGA pays on the line of credit will also go down. But if the prime rate goes up, which is expected to happen in the near future, then the interest MTGA pays on the $1.2 billion (expansion) line of credit will also increase.

In addition to MTGA, the tribal government also has borrowed money. The tribal government currently pays close to $7 million annually in interest expenses. Annual interest expenses the tribal government pays will come close to doubling over the coming year due to anticipated future borrowings for the government building-community center. The government building-community center, which one high official estimates will cost $100 million, is expected to add another $5 to $6 million in interest expenses each year.

Financing for the government building-community center has not yet been secured but the current plan is to borrow the money through a bond offering. Since the project is related to the tribal government, it is believed that the Tribe can do a tax-free bond offering. In other words, those who buy the bonds won't have to pay taxes on the interest the tribal government will pay them. Since the tribal government is almost totally reliant on MTGA as its source of revenues, a lower MTGA credit rating may mean that tribal government borrowings will be more expensive.

On July 31, MTGA reported an 89 percent decline in overall profits for the three months of April through June. MTGA figures include Mohegan Sun and Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania. Two weeks ago, it was announced that July slot revenues at Mohegan Sun fell by close to 15 percent (14.6%)compared to July 2007.

In addition to MTGA, Moody's also announced that the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation's credit rating was also placed under review. Moody's said it will look into how MTGA and Mashantucket manage expenses.

Another credit rating service, Standard and Poor's, downgraded MTGA's credit outlook to "negative" in May and lowered the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation's credit rating. Under the Standard and Poor's rating system, MTGA has a grade of BB- while Mashantucket has a rating of BB+, which means that Mashantucket's credit rating is little better than MTGA's credit rating.

Moody's also placed companies controlled by a principle of MTGA's former casino management company under review. MTGA pays its former management company 5 percent of the revenues generated at the Mohegan Sun complex so if MTGA's credit rating suffers, so will the credit ratings of the former management company and subsidiaries of the former management company that rely on MTGA's revenues, including Waterford Gaming LLC and Waterford Gaming Finance. Waterford Gaming's major investment is in the Twin River racetrack-casino in Rhode Island.

Moody's said of the review of Waterford Gaming and its subsidiary, "During its review, Moody’s will assess the potential implications of MTGA’s deteriorating operating performance and financial profile on the amount of cash distributions to Waterford and the company’s continuous ability to meet its coupon payments and de-lever its balance sheet."

Monday, August 25, 2008

Photos: Slideshow Of Sidewalk Construction On Route 32: View North

Photos: Slideshow Of Sidewalk Construction On Route 32: View South

Tribe Puts In Sidewalk On Route 32 In Montville

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The photos posted above show the recent progress on sections of the sidewalk being put in by the Tribe on the eastern side of Route 32 in Montville.

The Tribe's chief of staff, Chuck Bunnell, said in last week's Tribal Council meeting that Montville town officials are appreciative of the Tribe funding the project and would like to hold a celebration upon completion of the sidewalk.

Three pedestrians have been killed in recent years walking down Route 32 in proximity of Mohegan Sun. It was these fatal incidents that prompted calls for a sidewalk.

Kobyluck Construction, run by a tribal member, is the contractor for the sidewalk project.

Photos: Fire Department Responds To Pipe Burst At Tribe's Shantok Apartments Today

Mashantucket Pequot Schemitzun 2008

By Ken Davison
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Last week's four-day Schemitzun Festival - which ended yesterday - on a farm off Wintechog Hill Road in North Stonington was the first I've been to since about ten years ago when the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe held the event in the Hartford Civic Center.

The Feast of Green Corn and Dance is a time to celebrate the riches of the land and to reap the rewards of a seaon of hard work, according to the Schemitzun program. "Native peoples across North America traditionally celebrated through powwows with songs, dancing, games, prayer and foods made from the newly-ripended corn."

"In the past year, all of us have been faced with difficulties and istabilities. It is important for all of us to recall the many blessings we continue to enjoy," according to the program's welcoming message.

Pictures of the festival are posted below this article.

The first person I saw when we pulled in was one of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe's attorneys directing patrons to parking spaces.

A woodland village was built at Schemitzun, recreating an indigenous native village was on exhibit to educate the public on Eastern Woodland culture and traditions. Brenda Hill, a Tuscarora Indian and master potter, made each pot by hand from clays of New England. Demonstrators from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and other New England tribes also made beads of wampum, taught ancient fire-making techniques, made a canoe and cooked clams, other seafood and seaweed.

Many Pequots were forcibly sold into slavery after the Pequot War of 1636-1637 and after King Phillips War (1675-1676). The Mashantucket's welcomed descendants from those Pequots sold into slavery and whom travelled from Bermuda to Schemitzun this year. The Tribe is actively researching ancestral lines and records of Pequots sold into slavery. The flag for St. Davids, Bermuda was placed next to the flags of the U.S., the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Missing in Action-Prisoner of War flags.

No incidents were reported except for a Sunday night fire caused by gas that leaked from a propane tank inside a food vendor's booth. One man was badly burned and two others were injured, according to reports.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Tribes In The Media: Mohegan-Pequot Indian Sites and Centers

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This installment of the Tribes In The Media series, is a Hartford Courant article that is expected to appear in tomorrow's edition and which covers the Tantaquidgeon Museum, a Mashantucket Pequot project that is investigating significant sites related to the 1637 Pequot War and some information on Mystic's Indian and Colonial Research Center. Mohegan tribal members Jason LaVigne and Garrett Kirwan are quoted in the article.

Indian Sites Struggle In Shadow Of Casinos
By Beth Dufresne
Hartford Courant
August 24, 2008

When an expansion at Mohegan Sun forced the relocation of a life-size statue of the late Gladys Tantaquidgeon, members of the Mohegan tribe couldn't agree on another site for their beloved medicine woman.

Ultimately, they decided to bring her home. Home is an intimate, four-room fieldstone museum at 1819 Norwich-New London Turnpike in the Uncasville section of Montville, a short walk from Tantaquidgeon's modest lifelong home and a world away from the Sun casino complex.

In the era that might be called B.C., Before Casinos, there was a modest handful of American Indian sites and institutions in southeastern Connecticut. They survive in the shadows of the giant Indian gaming complexes, but most do not thrive.

In the small museum, the statue of the diminutive Tantaquidgeon, who died in 2005 at age 106, stands near a portrait of Uncas, the 17th-century Mohegan sachem from whom she is descended. Her brother, the late Chief Harold Tantaquidgeon, painted the portrait. Family photographs hang over countless mementos of Gladys' travels throughout Indian Country during the 1930s and '40s.

"I think she's probably happier here," said tribal member Jason LaVigne, who oversees the place. Tens of thousands of people visit Mohegan Sun daily. Yet just 140, excluding school trips, passed through here from May through July. Some, particularly the Europeans, come seeking an "authentic" Indian site, LaVigne said. But most are local people who came here as children, often with Scout troops, and now want to relive the experience with their own kids.

They're happy to find that you can still touch a real bearskin, and that the stuffed eagle that entranced them as kids, which looks pretty scrappy, is still here. "I keep it out," LaVigne said, "because the kids love it."

Gladys and Harold, with their father, John Tantaquidgeon, founded the museum in 1931, and for decades it was arguably the public's main window onto southeastern Connecticut's Indian tribes. One of the oldest Indian-run museums in the nation, it was rededicated this year with much fanfare but few changes save air conditioning and some sprucing up.

Across the street, residents of a trailer park for tribal members said they often encounter people searching for "real" Indians, having failed to find — or at least recognize — any at the casinos.

Garrett Kirwan, also descended from Uncas, said if you want to talk to an Indian, the last place to look is Foxwoods, owned by the Mashantucket Pequots, or the Sun. He is happy to talk, and to debunk stereotypes such as that all "casino Indians" are rich. That's true only of the leaders, he said.

Kirwan, his doorway distinguished by a large Indian head in non-Mohegan headdress, is also glad to point visitors to other Mohegan sites, such as Fort Shantok and Cochegan Rock, where Uncas met with his council.

The overpowering presence of Foxwoods and the Sun seems, for some at least, to make pre-casino artifacts and sites more authentic and precious.

Perhaps the best place to get a sense of that long, tough span between conquest and casinos is the North Stonington reservation of the Eastern Pequot tribe, which won federal recognition after the Mashantuckets and Mohegans, but saw it withdrawn in 2005. Largely undeveloped, the Eastern reservation is home to a few tribal members and one fledgling business, the We-Tu Bait and Tackle Shop.

Nearby is Lantern Hill, from which Pequot sachems once surveyed their domain. The peak, popular with hikers, offers a spectacular view of a part of the new Indian world, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, built in 1998 for $135 million.

The Mashantucket museum recently got a $22,000 grant from the National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program to begin documenting areas crucial to the 1637 Pequot War. Ironically, the project highlights the precarious financial state of another pre-casino landmark, the Indian and Colonial Research Center of the Old Mystic section of Stonington.

Housed in a little 19th-century brick bank building, the center was founded in 1965 to preserve the eclectic collections of Eva Butler (1897-1969), a local historian who amassed an astonishing trove of public records, artifacts and photographs spanning several centuries.

David Naumec, a research consultant who was there in July working on the Pequot battlefield project, said the Mashantucket research center has "pretty good archives. But this is better."

The Old Mystic center was a veritable hot spot for those anxious to prove tribal lineage in the 1980s and '90s. Many used its archives to help win tribal membership at a time when everyone, it seemed, suddenly wanted to be Indian.

Today, however, with dwindling funds and volunteers, the center itself needs outside help. Joan Cohn, its director, said that since 2000 the Mohegans have contributed $30,000 to the center, and the Mashantuckets $500. She said either tribe would take Butler's collection in a pinch, but wouldn't promise to keep the original items available to the public. Many of the center's records are now online, but that's not good enough.

So it soldiers on, ignored by the slots players and rock fans who only know the new Indian institutions in the region.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Flash: Moody's Puts Mohegan And Mashantucket On Review For Another Possible Credit Rating Downgrade

Tribes In The Media: Mashantucket Pequot's Schemitzun Festival Begins

This installment in The Tribes In The Media series is a Norwich Bulletin article on the Mashantucket's Schemitzun Festival, a four-day event that began today.

American Indian culture on display at Schemitzun
By Sharma Howard
Norwich Bulletin
August 21, 2007

Schemitzun is a celebration of harvest, a Mashantucket Pequot tribal tradition called The Feast of Green Corn and Dance. Today, it’s also a cross-cultural event that celebrates centuries of tradition and culture of 500 American Indian tribes who converge at the largest powwow on the east coast.

For American Indians who travel the powwow circuit to compete in dancing, bull-riding, drumming and singing competitions, it is the last on the trail, and represents large purses to the winners.

For people who attend, it’s both educational and riveting, said Marjorie Colebut-Jackson, powwow chairwoman and Mashantucket Pequot tribal member.

“I can promise anyone whose never been it’s an event and experience like no other they’ve ever had before,” Jackson said.

This year, Schemitzun will include a 16th century village to represent the eastern woodland tribes, a pseudo living version of what visitors see at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum.

“You’ll be seeing people doing crafts, storytelling, singing and dancing,” Jackson said. Other activities include canoe building, bead making, and bow and arrow making.

The goal of the village, Jackson said, is to have people understand and experience the culture of the eastern woodlands. She added powwows help to distinguish the differences between tribes.

“Although there are a lot of similarities, there are a lot of differences, too,” she said. “[People] learn not everything fits every time,”

"People start to learn that and respect that.”

Jackson grew up going to powwows, and has seen them evolve from the family to the community.

“It’s become larger than ever,” she said. “Now we interact with the audience in our dances.”

James Walker, a tribal member and rodeo president, said he has noticed a faithful following in crowd at the Michael T. Godwin Memorial Rodeo. Last year he met a group of people from Denmark who have been coming to Schemitzun for five years. They will visit the dances and see the rodeo, which is later in the evening.

The rodeo attracts eight to 10 thousand people every year, Walker said.

Bull riding embodies danger, and while the determined cowboys try to keep their seats for the whole eight seconds, viewers are sitting on the edge of theirs. Only about 20 to 25 percent manage to stay on the bull for the eight seconds. The rest are thrown, and are then in the hands of rodeo clowns to divert the furious, 2,000-pound bulls away from trampling them.

The bulls are “No. 1 bulls” selected for their bucking ability through breeding and some training, Walker said, and 80 are brought in by Double R Championship Rodeo.

The event attracts the best American Indian bull riders in the country, with prize money totaling $45,000.

“It’s something different,” Walker said. “You don’t see bull riding in Connecticut or New England.”

If you go
What: Schemitzun.
When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. today-Sunday.
Where: 91 Wintechog Hill Road, North Stonington
Price: $8 adults, $4 seniors, $4 children ages 4-11, free younger than 4. Rodeo admission separate from general admission.
Parking: On site, free. There is also a free shuttle from Foxwoods and the MGM Grand, which runs every 15 minutes, free.
For more informaiton, visit or call (800) 224-CORN.

Photos (New): Harvest Basket Dancers At Practice Days Before Wigwam Festival