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Mashantucket leaders take office

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - With winter sunshine streaming through the glass wall of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center's Gathering Room, tribal members, local and state dignitaries, and dozens of invited guests attended an inaugural ceremony for tribal councilors and gaming commissioners on the second day of the New Year.

The event was replete with a flag song and procession by the tribe's Honor Guard of veterans, followed by Miss Mashantucket Royalty leading the Little Fox Dance Troupe, Native music and speeches.

The day's recurring themes of unity and gratitude were set in the opening prayer by Laughing Woman, an Elders Council member and spiritual adviser.

''Today's a special day as we gather to celebrate our council. They're all together again. We prayed to God for that, because they're a good working team, so we want to give thanks to God for allowing us all to get through 2006. It was a tough year for many people, but today's a new day, and it's a beautiful day,'' Laughing Woman said.

Elections took place on Nov. 4, 2006. Twelve candidates vied for the three top council seats of chairman, secretary and treasurer. Chairman Michael Thomas, Secretary Charlene Jones and Treasurer Rodney Butler were all re-elected for their third three-year terms.

More than 80 percent of the approximately 400 eligible voters ''consistently'' turn out to vote, spokesman Arthur Henick said. The tribe does not release vote results.

Event emcee Pedro Johnson, a tribal elder and former council member, asked for a moment of silence to honor the death of former President Gerald Ford.

''Regardless of which side of the aisle you're on, it's good to take the opportunity to recognize those warriors - just like our warriors sitting up here today - who are the leaders of our country and the leaders of our nation. It takes a special person to devote himself to making this world and this nation a better place and we thank them for it,'' Johnson said.

Johnson acknowledged the presence of Mohegan Tribe Chairman Bruce ''Two Dogs'' Bozsum and Councilor Mark Hamilton, as well as several local town council members, mayors and selectmen, and a number of state representatives and senators.

Elders Council Chairman V. Eleazer administered the oath of office to Thomas, who in turn gave the oath to Jones, Butler, and Elders Council Secretary Treasurer Anthony Sebastian.

Praising the tribe's Gaming Commission as ''one of the greatest pieces of the Mashantucket story,'' Thomas swore in Commission Chairman Annette Stone, Vice Chairman George Henningsen, and commissioners Tonya Dames and Matthew Cooper.

Gaming Commission members ''are the conservators our integrity; and when people pretend that tribes can't self-regulate - although they have no problem with thinking that states can self-regulate - I say to them, 'If you don't think they're serious about their job, just come and sit in on a conversation between a gaming manager and a gaming commissioner,''' Thomas said.

Gaming at the tribe's Foxwoods Resort and Casino ''is the cornerstone for all the rest of the economic success we've been able to build,'' Thomas said, thanking the current commissioners and their predecessors.

Butler thanked the council for its mentoring and wisdom over the years.

''I'm looking forward to working with this united council, a council that is focused on the best interests of this tribe for generations to come. There are tremendous opportunities that lie in front of us and it's our responsibility to bring them to this nation,'' Butler said.