MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - Shifting the spotlight to community life and away
from the ever-looming casino, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation swore
in a new tribal council Jan. 3 with familiar faces at the top but two
younger women as new members.
The ceremony in the lobby of the landmark Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Museum
evoked memories of the tribe's endangered past and gave a rare public
glimpse into the current day-today concerns of its members. As Chairman
Michael Thomas gave the oath of office to council members and several other
tribal officials, he noted a series of issues, including a need for
expanded health care. Prayers and songs by Mystic Drum opened the
proceedings on a temporary stage backed by a view of the Great Cedar Swamp
at the heart of the Mashantucket reservation.
Tribal elections in November promoted council member Kenneth Reels to vice
chair and added newcomers Marjorie Colebut-Sims and Chalita Young. With
current Tribal Secretary Charlene Jones, women now hold three of the seven
"When you want to know how to do something right, go ask a Pequot woman,"
said Thomas. "They'll tell you."
More seriously, he continued, "Women are the strength of Indian people.
"When men forget that, things go awry."
Thomas wore a ceremonial Iroquois ribbon shirt and left the dais at the
beginning and end to sit in with the drum group.
Introducing Colebut-Sims, who wore buckskin with a fox pelt over one
shoulder, Thomas praised her three years as president of the tribe's
pharmaceutical network PRXN. He said she had helped control a double-digit
surge in health costs, while providing medical supplies "to 40,000 lives."
The network serves tribal members and employees of the tribe's Foxwoods
Casino Resort, and the tribe is seeking to expand its clientele.
Colebut-Sims told Indian Country Today that the interim presidency of PRXN
would pass to Fred J. Calatayud, its chief operating officer.
Thomas called the elevation of Chalita Young "bittersweet," saying he would
miss her work as his office assistant in charge of caring for the problems
of tribal members.
"She just loves everybody all the time," he said. "Sometimes I can get
upset," he said, drawing a few "yeahs" from elders in the front of the
audience. "Sometimes I get impatient." But Young, he said, "has that
particular quality of being able to show everyone love all the time."
Thomas gave an effusive introduction to new Vice Chair Reels, his
predecessor as tribal chairman. "This is a person who had the humility to
step down, telling people he thought I would do a better job," said Thomas.
"This is incredible. You can search history for any person, man or woman,
who has done that."
Reels served one term as tribal chairman, from 1999 - 2002. He takes the
vice chair position from another former tribal chairman Richard "Skip"
Hayward, who founded the tribe's phenomenally successful Foxwoods Casino
Resort in the early '90s but who decided to retire from the council earlier
in the fall.
Thomas also gave the oath to the new chief judge of the tribal court,
Thomas Weismuller, and two members of the Gaming Commission, Annette
Menihan and George Henningsen.
Connecticut Lieutenant Gov. Kevin Sullivan gave a brief greeting to the
tribe, standing in for Gov. Jodi Rell, who is recovering from surgery.
Thomas said in introduction that the tribe had excellent
government-to-government relations with the state. "For a while we allowed
rhetoric to affect local relations," he said, referring to often hostile
dealings with three neighboring towns. "But thankfully that never happened
with the state of Connecticut."
Thomas also said the tribe had developed good partnerships with several
nearby cities, alluding briefly to the opening Oct. 18 of a new $18 million
office complex at the Chelsea harbor in Norwich, developed jointly by the
tribe, the state and the Norwich Community Development Corporation.
Laughing Woman, the tribe's spiritual leader, delivered the opening prayer
and sang an opening and closing song with her performing partner Eagle