Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Indians' patriotism questioned
From The Day:
Tribal councilor troubled by characterizations of tribe's meeting with towns
Published on 3/15/2001
Mashantucket -- The Mashantucket Pequots are committed to resolving a land dispute with neighboring towns and will not let insensitive rhetoric about the tribe and its traditions upset negotiating sessions, Tribal Councilor Michael Thomas said Wednesday.
"Our current focus is to reach agreement with our neighbors and to establish a mutually agreeable resolution, so we can all move forward," said Thomas, the tribal treasurer. "We believe there is far more common interest between ourselves and our neighbors than there is disagreement."
In a telephone interview, Thomas said he is troubled by comments made by public officials following Monday's negotiating session between the tribe and towns questioning the Mashantuckets' tactics and motives at the bargaining table.
He was particularly distressed about statements that the tribe would not recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the meeting and that Tribal Chairman Kenneth M. Reels' gift of an eagle feather to First Selectman Nicholas H. Mullane II was intended as a publicity stunt.
"There is no other ethnic group with greater historical military service than American Indians," said Thomas. "We are proud citizens of the United States. We love the United States."
Thomas said it was "untrue" that the tribe said it would not participate in the meeting if the Pledge of Allegiance were recited.
"We would be honored to begin these meetings with the pledge, before or after our prayer and cleansing ceremony," said Thomas.
He said the tribe had no idea that the towns were under the impression that the pledge could not be recited because it would be offensive to the Mashantuckets.
"There were some ground rules, but that was not discussed," he said.
A staff member for U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, who arranged the meeting, agreed.
"The congressman did not articulate that aspect to the tribe," said Michael Blair, Simmons' chief of staff, on Wednesday. "It was an oversight, but absolutely not, it was never reported to them."
Blair said the congressman's office determined that the negotiating session was a business meeting, and reciting the pledge would not be appropriate.
At Monday's session at the Ramada Hotel in Norwich, Thomas, Reels and Councilor Pedro Johnson met in a historic meeting with the leaders of Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston.
For years, the two sides have been at odds over the tribe's request to add 165 acres off Route 2 opposite its Foxwoods Resort Casino to its reservation. If the land is added, it will be free from state and local taxes, and land-use regulations.
Town officials at the session outlined their concerns about annexing the land, and asked the tribe to answer specific questions about its future plans for adding land and developing it. The tribe did not respond to the questions Monday, but said it will soon. It also promised to make a proposal to the three towns to settle the land issue.
Following the meeting, some of the town officials complained about the lack of substance at the meeting, and said they expected the tribe to talk specifics. There were also complaints that Reels' gift of an eagle feather to Mullane was grandstanding.
"It was a great honor for the chairman to give that feather to First Selectman Mullane," said Thomas. "And I would just want folks to understand the significance of the gift. There is very little that is more honorable from our perspective than an eagle feather. From a personal perspective, it has taken me a lot of dedicated years to earn my first eagle feather. I would just ask people to understand the significance of it before assuming it is a tactic. It's not at all. It's an incredible honor and should be treated as such."
North Stonington, where Mullane is first selectman, is clearly the hotbed of opposition to tribal annexation.
Thomas said complaints about the tribe's prayer and cleansing service at the Norwich meeting also bothered him.
"It's the way we prepare a room for open, honest discussion," he said. "It's spiritual, not political or governmental. It is what it appears to be, giving honor to the Creator. We were asking him to hear the prayers we have for togetherness and unity in this region where we have been divided for far too long."
A couple of examples of stereotypical thinking here. One, not understanding that the giving of an eagle feather is a serious spiritual offering, not a stunt. Two, implying the Indians weren't "American" enough because they didn't pledge allegiance to the flag. What group of adults ever expects another group of adults to pledge allegiance? That ritual is usually reserved for veterans and children, not business or government negotiators.
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