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Northeast Woodlands Briefs

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Eating Cake at Foxwoods

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - "Let them eat cake!" declared elders of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation at their 12th anniversary celebration of the opening of the Foxwoods Resort Casino on Feb. 13. The mid-day festivity offered 3,500 slices of white and chocolate cake for patrons at the Garden Food Court in the Rainmaker Casino, the original section of the sprawling gaming and hotel complex.

Members of the Elders Council, traditional hosts of the event, washed down their own slices with coffee in front of a stage featuring several large uncut cakes and a glittering Harlequin torso made entirely of chocolate. The Elders Council consists of every member of the tribe over the age of 55. Its main duties include keeping the membership rolls and, when necessary, voting on banishment.

The gaming facility opened on Feb. 15, 1992, under the name Foxwoods High Stakes Bingo & Casino. It offered a 46,000-square foot gaming area with 170 table games but no slot machines. Its gaming area is now 10 times that amount. Since signing a slot machine compact with the state of Connecticut in January 1993, it has increased its holdings steadily and it now offers 6,700 machines, the largest of any casino in the world.

According to a release distributed at the event, Foxwoods now provides nearly 11,500 jobs, with remarkably low turnover. Nearly 25 percent of the original workforce is still on payroll there and over 6,000 members have more than five years of service.

The expansion is continuing. Just yards from the cake-fest, workmen were raising the framework for a $99 million Rainmaker Casino expansion that will include the largest Hard Rock Caf? in New England and a connected parking garage.

All-Ivy Native American Student Conference

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Native students in Ivy League colleges are banding together for strength in raising Indian issues with their school administrations.

Nearly 100 students from prestigious Northeast universities gathered at Dartmouth College Feb. 19 - 22 for the first All-Ivy Native American Student Conference. They established the Ivy Native Council to meet twice a year for mutual support and information-sharing on their campus programs. The Council plans to meet in the fall at Brown University and next spring at Yale.

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Members of the group hope to prod their schools to improve Native programs by showing what other campuses are doing, said Nicole Simone Willis, Nez Perce, Yakama, Oglala Lakota and Cayuse, who is president of the Association of Native Americans at Yale.

"Yale never wants Harvard to be better at something."

Yale students are planning a conference on Indian studies April 23 - 25 to promote the field in the school curriculum, said Willis. She said that non-Indian graduate students had organized a Yale Group for the Study of Native Americans, which they felt had been neglected in recent years since the departure of Professor Jace Weaver, the school's one full time Native faculty member. She said that graduate student involvement had helped to get the attention of the school administration.

Penobscot Nation lands wildlife grants

INDIAN ISLAND, Maine - Upbeat news is coming from the Penobscot Nation's Department of Tribal Natural Resources. After losing several wildlife management staff because of federal cutbacks, the department has landed two major Interior Department grants that should reverse some of the damage.

Interior's Tribal Wildlife Grant Program is allocating $250,000, the maximum it can give, for deer and moose management on the nation's 80,000 acres of holdings. John Banks, the nation's natural resources director, said the funds would support data collection on moose and deer population and habitat conditions. The Penobscots would use the information for decisions about hunting seasons, bag limits and forestry operations.

The money would also restore staffing levels at the Natural Resources department to around 30. The highly-regarded department is the pride of the Penobscot Nation, with a state-of-the-art lab to monitor water quality and offices taking up half of the tribe's newest government building.

The Penobscots will also receive nearly $200,000 from Interior's Tribal Landowner Incentive Program to work on the comprehensive settlement agreement for the Penobscot River Restoration Project. Banks reports steady progress on the project with a consortium of state environmental groups and the leading power generator on the river, the PPL corporation of Allentown, Pa. Plans are to remove two dams and bypass a third by 2010 to restore the run of salmon and 11 other species.

Interior also gave a $180,000 Wildlife Grant to the Passamaquoddy Tribe at the Indian Township Reservation in Princeton to survey populations of Canada lynx and search for other forest carnivores, such as gray wolves and mountain lions. The Aroostook Band of Mic Mac Indians in Presque Isle received more than $80,000 for a brown ash management project. The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians in Littleton received more than $68,000 for a wildlife habitat enhancement program.