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How the Poorest Native Americans Became the Richest Tribe in the USA

Updated on June 18, 2017
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

A descendant of Mohawk Nation and trained in anthropology, Patty has researched and reported on Indigenous Peoples for over four decades.

Foxwoods Resort of the Mashantucket Pequot
Foxwoods Resort of the Mashantucket Pequot | Source

Multi-billion dollar Foxwoods Resort operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Nation in Ledyard, Connecticut opened for business in 1992 and is still a success.

One Family Can Make a Difference

The home website of the Western Pequot Nation, officially designated as the Mashantucket (Western) Pequot Tribal Nation, offers no mention of the individual and family that strove hardest to gain federal recognition for Connecticut's state-recognized Western Perquot.

The state group resided on a small reservation containing only 214 acres of land, one small shack with one outhouse, and one elderly part-Pequot woman in 1973 during the Viet Nam Conflict Era and the "Age of Aquarius."

From that low point in Pequot history, the Western Pequot rose to become the wealthiest Indigenous People in the entire USA.

The nearby Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation is still only a state-recognized tribe in Connecticut.

Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation

Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation:
Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, 21 Ephraims Path, Ledyard, CT 06338, USA

get directions

Foxwoods Resort:
350 Trolley Line Blvd, Mashantucket, CT 06338, USA

get directions

Revolution Era Legal Precedents

During the early 1970s and the rise of the new conservationist inspired Earth Day and awareness of Native North Americans through that decade's Red Movement, young attorneys began to defend the rights of these tribes.

The lawyers filed suits for the return of original indigenous homelands taken or purchased illegally by leaders in Eastern US States. This purchasing or confiscation was a violation of George Washington's 1777 protection treaty and his 1790 Non-intercourse Act that prevented such state purchases without specific federal approval provided first.

After the American Revolution, the numerous eastern tribes signed treaties with individual states that were once the 13 Colonies. They did not , however, sign treaties with the US Federal Government. Therefore, they were not afforded rights under the US Constitution and their reservations could receive no federal benefits of any kind.

In fact, Native Americans were not given US citizenship until 1964 and this was after failed attempts under the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy to eliminate all tribal designations and related entities.

Over 400 Died in Fewer Than 60 Minutes.

White attack on the Pequot village at Mystic on June 5, 1637. This woodcut was paced in Commander John Underhill’s book about the Pequot War,  pub. in London, 1638. Over 400 Pequot men, women & children died in under an hour.
White attack on the Pequot village at Mystic on June 5, 1637. This woodcut was paced in Commander John Underhill’s book about the Pequot War, pub. in London, 1638. Over 400 Pequot men, women & children died in under an hour.

Approximate Boundaries Of the Reservation circa 1667

Thames River CT:
Thames River, Connecticut, USA

get directions

Ledyard CT:
Ledyard, CT, USA

get directions

Long Pond CT:
Long Pond, Connecticut, USA

get directions

Mystic CT:
Mystic, Stonington, CT, USA

get directions

Pawcatuck River CT:
Pawcatuck River, United States

get directions

Without Reservation

Attorney Tom Tureen graduated from law school in 1969 with the ambition of working for Native American groups seeking federal recognition and a return of their original homelands (reference: Jeff Benedict, Without Reservation; 2001). Working with Tureen, John Stevens of the Passamaquoddy Nation in Maine and Susan MacCulloch sought out all of the native groups in the Northeast and traveled from Virginia to Louisiana to find the rest and interview them all (Benedict, pp. 17-23). They found hundreds.

During this time, Tureen met members of the Hayward family, in particular Richard A. "Skip" Hayward. With Tureen's help, Skip put forth incredible efforts to gain federal recognition for the Manashtucket Pequot beginning in 1973, with the result that this federally recognized tribe became the richest in the nation by 1998.

The tribal museum contains scant mention on Skip Hayward, who was elected the first chairman (Chief) of the tribe and served for 23 years until 1998. He lost to Kenneth Reels in 1998 and 1999, serving as vice chairmen in those years. The two men were descendants of Elizabeth George (Hayward), who married two white men and her sister, Annie (Reels), who married a black man. Hayward looked white and Reels looked African American.

Kenneth Reels began his career in an auto salvage yard (Benedict, p. 230), joining the Mashantucket Pequot about 1985. He worked in the physical facilities and infrastructure improvements on the reservation and was elected vice chairman. While Hayward was working off the reservation to gather additional investors and planners for his vision of business expansions, Reels changed some procedures of the tribal government. Reels dropped the 1/16 blood requirement for tribal membership, further hiring employment headhunters to secure African American workers in all the tribal businesses, which were growing in number (Benedict, pp. 230 - 246). It was later found that archived genealogical records with the local government had been altered to change "race" from "black" to "Pequot" for some tribal family lines.

Reels began using large business revenues to pay huge stipends to some tribal members, resulting in arguments and violence. He also slashed the budget for Hayward's biggest dream - the Pequot Museum and Research Center - and reduced staff to an inoperable number. Only three staff members are listed for the giant of a museum today, with a constant call for volunteers.

Skip Hayward is mentioned briefly on the museum's website (see links below), but nowhere on the tribe's home website, including it's history page.

In 2012 -2013, tribal council members' names were largely Whipple, Sebastian (related to Reels), and Colebut - but not Hayward, who had/has eight siblings and many cousins.. We do not expect to see revisionist history and internal politics to such an extent in Native American Nations that were maltreated by Europeans, but here it is. Jeff Benedict's evidence is that Reels forced out white-looking Pequot in favor of African American-looking Pequot to the extent that only "two whites" (Benedict, p. 294) were left on the tribal council just before Hayward left, including Hayward.

Some sources state that Hayward dropped the blood-quantum requirement from membership in the Western Pequot tribe, but it was Reels that did this, without Hayward's knowledge, since he was out of town working at the time. Hayward was too busy with his dreams of success to know about this. In 2012, some 785 tribal members existed, with more to join every month.

Skip Hayward

In the early 1970s, Skip Hayward, with little Native American blood, had difficulty holding a job. He worked in trades as a pipe fitter, a student preacher, a milkman, a fast food manager, and other jobs. Frustrated, he was changeable in nature and pretty abusive to his wife Ailine, according to researcher Jeff Benedict. However, at the end of the relationship with Ailine, Skip found a new cause to soak up his energies.

Skip's grandmother, Elizabeth George Plouffe (1894-1973) was of part Pequot blood and the last surviving member of the Western Pequot from the 1910 US Census. This is the document that Hayward as Chief would later choose as a certification point for entrance into the Mashantucket Pequot -- Candidates must have been able to trace their ancestry to one of the Pequot in that census document. Kenneth Reels as Chief dropped this requirement about 1998.

Elizabeth lived on the small 214-acre Western Pequot Nation Reservation her whole life, visited more often by her grandson Skip than other relatives. Benedict has felt that Elizabeth may have belonged to a tribe other than the Pequot, but the current tribe denies this.

After Elizabeth George died, attorney Tom Tureen discovered that about 800 acres or more of Pequot lands had been purchased by the State of Connecticut illegally. This was done against the requirement of George Washington's Non-intercourse Act of 1790. Violations included not only the Western Pequot, but dozens of other tribes along the Eastern Seaboard, many of them not recognized by the federal government.

Federal Recognition Without Tribal Members

Seeking federal tribal recognition and grant funding, Hayward gathered his nuclear family and more distant relatives to organize as a tribal government and live on the 214 acre reservation left by Elizabeth George. He applied for recognition through the efforts of Tom Tureen. Western Pequot lived on the reservation after the Pequot War from 1667 to 1973, when Elizabeth died. It was some time before Skip moved onto the reservation, so for a few years until summer 1975, it was unoccupied, but still qualified as a reservation.

On August 10, 1975, Hayward called a meeting on the reservation with relatives and began gathering residents for the site (Benedict, pp. 60 - 65). This would prove the existence of the tribe, along with a constitution as written proof of tribal government. They were all related somehow to Pequot listed in the 1910 US Census, further proof of tribal existence. There was a 1973 photographic portrait of Elizabeth in native dress and jewelry, standing with her youngest granddaughter Theresa, as further proof of the tribe's validity.

Slip Hayward became the first Chief (chairman of the tribal council) in 1975, fighting for federal recognition through Congressional hearing and legislative acts. President Ronald Regan vetoed the first act, but signed the second act on October 18, 1983 - perhaps because while he was against the act that would provide additional federal spending, but many Republican legislators supported it. The Western Pequot received less than one million dollars from the federal government and another $200,000 in road improvements from the State of Connecticut. This was not such a lot of money in 1983.

The Western Pequot repurchased enough lands within the original reservation boundaries and even outside it along Route 2 in order to amass to total of almost 2,000 acres. The official acreage at this writing is reported as 1,250 on the tribal website, but the tribe is free to purchase more.

MGM Grand at Foxwoods
MGM Grand at Foxwoods | Source

Associated Press News; Ledyard, Connecticut in 2012

The Pequots of the federally recognized group stopped issuing 6-figure (millions of dollars) stipends to adult members of the tribe in 2012. The tribe still helps out with college tuition and jobs, however and the tribal law gives preference to qualified and documented Pequots, their spouses, and members of other US federally recognized tribes for hiring at Pequot businesses.

Reservation Businesses

Some early businesses failed on the reservation, such as maple syrup production and a Mr. Pizza restaurant but others took their places and grew inordinately large.

Skip Hayward brought in a huge bingo hall, followed by the Foxwoods Resort in 1992, but Kenneth Reels seems to have wasted some of the initial proceeds in over-large stipends mentioned above.

Businesses 2012 - 2016

  • Pequot Plus Health Benefit Services™ and Pequot Pharmaceutical Network®
  • Foxwoods Resort (whose website has a Chinese translation to please investors) - Hotels, restaurants, gaming, retail, theaters, other.
  • MGM Grand at Foxwoods
  • Golf Courses
  • Great Cedar Hotel
  • Spa at Norwich Inn
  • Two Trees Inn
  • Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution

To tribe advantage, the State of Connecticut did not specifically see state regulatory rights on the reservation, but only rights to investigate and prosecute criminal acts. Therefore the residents and business on the reservation are not required to pay some taxes and fees.

Someone yet may challenge the Western Pequot on their validity as a tribe, based on bloodlines and birth certificates, but to date this has not occurred. The list of intrigues and cutthroat maneuvers on the reservation from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s is too long to discuss here, but most are included in Jeff Benedict's book and other nonfiction works listed below.

One source states that

Pequot tribal council in 2012, which has included two convicted felons, has dropped the requirement that members of the tribe have any Pequot blood at all. [Remember that Reels did this, purportedly without the knowledge of Hayward.]

Mashantucket Pequot Sites

Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation:
2 Matts Path, Ledyard, CT 06338, USA

get directions

Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center:
The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, 110 Pequot Trail, Mashantucket, CT 06338, USA

get directions

Foxwoods Resort:
Foxwoods Blvd, CT, USA

get directions

Museum Display Made From Life Casts Of Tribal Members


Additional Sources

Hauptman, Laurence M., Wherry, James D. The Pequots in Southern New England: The Fall and Rise of an American Indian Nation. (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993).

Quintal, George, Jr. Patriots of Color: ‘A Peculiar Beauty and Merit’ African Americans and Native Americans at Battle Road & Bunker Hill. (Boston, MA: Division of Cultural Resources, Boston National Historical Park, 2004).

© 2012 Patty Inglish


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