Are Pequots Really Pequots?

Tribe Makes A Fortune On Casino

Thirteen years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Indian tribes, as more or less sovereign nations, can run their own gambling operations on tribal land, free of taxes and regulations that rein in the casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

The ruling not only created a $10 billion business; some argued it also created some Indian tribes, or at the very least resurrected them.

Correspondent Steve Kroft revisits a story of big money and the debate over identity.


Click here to read the two segments:
  • 1994 Profile
  • 2000 Update
  • 1994 Profile

    In the early '90s new questions were being raised about the legitimacy of the biggest and most prosperous of these tribes: the Mashantucket Pequot, who run Foxwoods casino in Connecticut. According to most history books, the original tribe had been extinct for more than 300 years.

    Foxwoods casino rises out of rural Connecticut like Las Vegas with an Indian motif. In 1994 Foxwoods was the largest, most successful casino in the Western Hemisphere, conveniently located on sovereign tribal territory in the heart of the Northeast corridor, within a three-hour drive of 22 million Americans.

    In the early '70s, the Pequots didn't exist, at least as far as the federal government was concerned. There was just a small reservation given to the remnants of the tribe by the state of Connecticut. And for a time in the 1970s, only one person lived on it, a 78-year-old woman, Elizabeth George, who was blessed with a very ambitious grandson: Skip Hayward.

    Formerly a pipefitter with the Electric Boat Co., after his grandmother died, Hayward decided to quit his job and move back to the reservation.

    The first thing he did was recruit his brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins to join him on the reservation. Next he hired a lawyer and sued the state of Connecticut over land claims. He settled for an act of Congress officially recognizing the Pequot as a tribe. Hayward's friends and family tried various business ventures: a pizza parlor, hydroponic vegetables and even pig farming. But nothing worked.

    Then with a loan, guaranteed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the tribe opened a high-stakes bingo parlor. By 1994, the casino brought in $300 million to $400 million a year, he said.

    The casino raked in more than prosperity to the Pequot reservation; it brought Pequots there. There was no shortage of aspiring Indians eager to sign up to share the wealth; anyone who could prove he or she was one-sixteenth Pequot Indian was entitled.

    If you could prove one of your great-great-grandparents was listed in the tribal census of 1910, you could join what became Connecticut's royal family - eligible for comfortable housing, free college tuition and a tribal job starting at $60,000 plus bonuses.

    Clifford Sebastian, wo grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was working as a transit cop in New York City until he arrived at the reservation as an assistant chief of the tribal police.

    Despite all this wealth and power, the tribe was not without some powerful enemies who considered them not only nouveau riche, but nouveau Indian. Among the enemies were Donald Trump and his political point man, then New Jersey Congressman Robert Torricelli, who said the Indians had all sorts of unfair competitive advantages. He, too, questioned the Pequots' authenticity.

    2000 Update

    The Foxwoods' skyline is more impressive now with a new hotel tower. The roads leading to Foxwoods are dotted with inns and restaurants all owned by the Pequots. The tribe has even manufactured high-speed boats to ferry in the high rollers from New York.

    Every morning hundreds of school kids from all over the Northeast arrive to visit the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, a $195 million monument to all things Pequot.

    But some say that Hayward and his tribe are not really Pequots.

    "This group of people isn't the same Pequots that inhabited Connecticut a couple hundred years ago," says author Jeff Benedict. "They're not even close."

    More Info
    Find out more about Jeff Benedict's book on the Pequots. Head to the book's official site.

    In his new book, Without Reservation, Benedict says the tribe and its lawyers pulled a fast one on the federal government. If Congress had been paying any attention at all in 1983, when it gave the Pequots tribal status, it would have discovered that the tribe didn't meet the minimum requirements, he says.

    Benedict spent two years pouring over court records and census tracts, he says. He claims that these Pequots can't trace their bloodlines back to the original tribe as Congress required and they hadn't functioned as a tribe for decades until Hayward moved his friends and family to the reservation in the early 1970s, when he was still identifying himself on most public documents as white or Caucasian. And Benedict says Hayward's grandmother, Elizabeth George, was probably descended from Narragansetts.

    "That is th biggest crock of crap I've ever heard in my life," Hayward responds. "(Benedict) is nothing but a damn lunatic. I mean either someone has paid him to do this....Or he is an Indian hater, who can't stand what we've been able to accomplished here."

    Hayward, no longer chairman of the tribe but vice chairman, says the state of Connecticut has recognized the Pequots for 300 years

    Since CBS News aired its original broadcast, the Pequot tribal council, which now includes two convicted felons, has dropped the requirement that members of the tribe have any Pequot blood at all. The membership has doubled since 1995 to more than 600 people.

    Kenny Reels, the new Pequot chairman and a former gravel pit operator, says it was government neglect and no jobs that forced his ancestors off the reservation in the first place and left them with no choice but to try to assimilate into the rest of society.

    "We are tired of people trying to label us or paint what they want an Indian to look like," Reels says.

    Says Benedict: "Frankly to go to the Congress of the United States and to portray yourself as something that you're not and to get benefits, dollars, as a result of it...is fraudulent."

    No one has embraced Benedict's book and research more warmly than the people of Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston, Conn., which surround the Foxwoods casino. They are fed up with the congestion, the traffic and the tribe's plans to annex even more real estate. They are demanding a congressional investigation to re-evaluate the Pequots' credentials.

    "What ever happened to one nation under God indivisible?" asks Bob Congdon, a selectman from Preston, Conn. "I have a real problem with this country being set up where there are different rights for different groups - different privileges, different immunities."

    The Mohegan tribe recently opened a casino just down the road, and the seven other tribes in Connecticut are also stepping up to the table, seeking federal recognition and hoping the federal government will call their numbers.