The history of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is one of dramatically changing fortunes. Native peoples have continuously occupied Mashantucket in Southeastern Connecticut for over 10,000 years. By the early 17th century, just prior to European contact, the Pequots had approximately 8,000 members and inhabited 250 square miles. However, the Pequot War (1636-1638) -- the first major conflict between colonists and an indigenous New England people -- had a devastating impact on the Tribe.
When the Pequot War formally ended, many tribal members had been killed and others placed in slavery or under the control of other tribes. Those placed under the rule of the Mohegans eventually became known as the Mashantucket (Western) Pequots and were given land at Noank in 1651. In 1666, the land at Noank was taken from the Tribe, and it was given back property at Mashantucket.
In the ensuing decades, the Pequots battled to keep their land, while at the same time losing reservation members to outside forces. By 1774, a Colonial census indicated that there were 151 tribal members in residence at Mashantucket. By the early 1800s, there were between 30 and 40 as members moved away from the reservation seeking work. Others joined the Brotherton Movement, a Christian-Indian movement that attracted Natives from New England to a settlement in upstate New York and later, Wisconsin. As for the remaining land in Connecticut, by 1856 illegal land sales had reduced the 989-acre reservation to 213 acres.
In the early 1970s, tribal members began moving back to the Mashantucket reservation, hoping to restore their land base and community, develop economic self-sufficiency, and revitalize tribal culture. By the mid-1970s, tribal members had embarked on a series of economic ventures, in addition to instituting legal action to recover illegally seized land.
With the assistance of the Native American Rights Fund and the Indian Rights Association, the Tribe filed suit in 1976 against neighboring landowners to recover land that had been sold by the State of Connecticut in 1856. Seven years later the Pequots reached a settlement with the landowners, who agreed that the 1856 sale was illegal, and who joined the Tribe in seeking the state government's support. The state responded, and the Connecticut Legislature unanimously passed legislation to petition the federal government to grant tribal recognition to the Mashantucket Pequots and settle the claim. With help from the Connecticut delegation, the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Land Claims Settlement Act was enacted by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Reagan on Oct. 18, 1983. It granted the Tribe federal recognition, enabling it to repurchase and place in trust the land covered in the Settlement Act. Currently, the reservation is 1,250 acres.
As the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation sought to settle its land claims, it also actively engaged in a number of economic enterprises, including the sale of cord wood, maple syrup, and garden vegetables, a swine project and the opening of a hydroponic greenhouse. Once the land claims were settled, the Tribe purchased and operated a restaurant, and established a sand and gravel business. In 1986, the Tribe opened its bingo operation, followed, in 1992, by the establishment of the first phase of Foxwoods Resort Casino.
The ceremonial groundbreaking for the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center took place on Oct. 20, 1993, in a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of federal recognition of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. The new facility, opened on August 11, 1998, is located on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation, where many members of the Mashantucket Pequot tribal members continue to live. It is one of the oldest, continuously occupied Indian reservations in North America.
Elizabeth George, (1894 - 1973), a leader of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation
The tribal symbol is both a reflection of Mashantucket Pequot past and a symbol of hope for the future. Framed against the sky, the lone tree on a knoll represents Mashantucket, the "much wooded land" where the Pequots hunted and kept alive their identity as an independent people. Displayed on the knoll is the sign of Robin Cassasinnamon, the Pequotâ€™s first leader following the 1637 massacre at Mystic Fort. The fox stands as a reminder that the Pequots are known as "The Fox People."