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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

From the Day:

I didn't need to explain.

The Schaghticoke Indians' sunless mountain in Kent was a battleground where the tribe's two warring factions had been known to shoot and club each other over the head with shovels.

One of those factions had come to The Courant with evidence the other had squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal grants: Copies of ledger pages and receipts suggested that money meant to grow hydroponic lettuce had grown certain pockets instead.

This being taxpayers' money, Dennie Williams and I were left with the job of confronting the tribal treasurer to ask her where it went.

And when Dennie told me she would meet with us only at her house on the reservation, I could foresee our corpses stuffed in shallow graves.

Still, we went.

We were met by the treasurer, her 8-foot husband and her two 9-foot, muscle-bound sons. As we sat at her kitchen table and produced our evidence, they loomed over us, swigging Old Mr. Boston rum from the bottle and growling and swearing.

"#&@%! Where'd you get that?"

Yes, I thought, we are definitely going to die.

But we persisted until it was clear she had no good answers for our questions. Somehow, we were allowed to leave alive.

No sooner had our story run than we were sued for libel. The Schaghticokes wanted The Courant to retract the story and to cough up a chunk of money to make them go away.

Enter Ralph Elliot, our longtime attorney and a lifelong champion of the First Amendment. Ralph's consuming mission was to defend people's right to know what their government is doing. He bristled when anyone, Schaghticokes included, tried to sue the truth out of the newspaper.

There was no way, as far as he was concerned, we were going to pay them a dime. The case dragged on for four years before we had our day in court: trial by jury in the Litchfield County courthouse.

Ralph was never the fire-breathing, table-pounding lawyer you see in the television shows. He was a tall, thin, balding man of quiet gravity. He was methodical, his logic inexorable, and he was gifted with dry wit.

He deftly sketched the contradictions in the tribal leaders' testimony. And in cross-examination, he teased out the fact that they kept not one, but two sets of books.

That, however, was not the coup de grace. The killing blow came when the tribal treasurer inadvertently admitted that, well, uh, actually, there were three.

"Three sets of books?" Ralph asked, his dark eyebrows arching over the frames of his glasses.

"Three sets of books!" one of the jurors laughed moments later as they filed out of the courtroom to begin their deliberations.

In minutes, they were back. The Schaghticokes, they found, had no case.

Ralph Gregory Elliott died last week at the age of 68. He had vetted dozens of our stories at The Courant and fought for our right to print them. He was the man behind the scenes who made our work possible. Connecticut citizens owe him a debt they know not of.

This is the opinion of Kenton Robinson.

Rob's comment
"Her 8-foot husband and her two 9-foot, muscle-bound sons"..."we are definitely going to die"...this is like something out of a lurid dime novel from 150 years ago.

No word on whether the giant husband and sons resemble the scary Indians depicted above.

Needless to say, the idea of an Indian as a big, hulking brute is a variation of the savage Indian stereotype.

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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