Skip to main content

Kevin P. Brown: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

The National Museum of the American Indian interview series Meet Native America continues today with Kevin P. Brown.

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Kevin P. Brown, chairman, Mohegan Tribe.

Can you share your name in your language and what it means?

Wompsuhq Masqaq (Whomp-suk Mas-kwak)—it means Red Eagle. Mother was Red Feather, Grandmother was Red Bird, Father was Irish. I retired as a colonel from the U.S. Army after 25 years of service, including a few years fighting against an insurgency. What is the relevance of that to my name? The symbol for the rank of colonel is an eagle. There is also a famous half-Indian figure in history—William Weatherford, but—whose Creek name translates to Red Feather; he fought in the Creek War of 1813–14 against the United States.

Where is your tribe located?

The Mohegan Reservation is 544 acres astride the Thames River near Uncasville, Connecticut. Uncasville is named for the famous Mohegan Sachem Uncas (ca. 1588–1683).

Where was your tribe originally from?

We trace our ancestry back to the times of Uncas here on this same piece of land where our reservation sits today, with ties to Upstate New York before migration to Connecticut.

What is a significant point in history from the Mohegan Tribe that you would like to share?

Given that this month is Native American Heritage Month and the month in which we celebrate Veterans Day, coupled with my own service as a veteran, I’d like to share the story of Mohegan tribal member Samuel Ashbow, who was born around 1746. When the American Revolution broke out against the Crown, Mohegan men joined on the side of the rebels. Tribal historians have found 51 of our young men on the muster rolls, log books, and payrolls of the fledgling force, with eight of our men having fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Of particular note, the first Native American to give his life in the defense of this land we call America was Mohegan tribal member Samuel Ashbow, who died fighting at the famous “rail fence” at Bunker Hill in 1775.

How is your tribal government set up?

By our constitution, the tribe is governed by the Mohegan people, represented by a nine-member Tribal Council and seven-member Council of Elders.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

In addition to the governing bodies described above, the tribe has elected a ceremonial lifetime chief in 2010. She is Lynn Malerba "Many Hearts," is a great-grandchild of former tribal Chief Burrill Fielding (as am I).

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Councilors are elected by the adult tribal membership for four-year staggered terms. This is true for both the Tribal Council and the Council of Elders.

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

The council meets in open session every week and meets with the tribal membership quarterly, a meeting that also includes the Council of Elders and the chief.

What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman?

I have dual responsibilities: As chairman, I am the chief executive officer of the tribe and the head of the executive branch of government. Additionally, I serve as the chairman of the board for the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which oversees all of our Mohegan Sun gaming ventures.

To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.