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Pequot Nation flooded with charity requests

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MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - As owner of one of the most lucrative casinos in the world, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation makes some of the largest donations in Indian country, and it is constantly asked for more.

"We received 3,000 requests for donations last year," said William L. Satti, who as former director of Public Affairs was in charge of screening them.

The final decision on most of the requests goes to a tribal Charitable Giving Group, said Satti, who is now chief of staff for Tribal Councilor Charlene Jones. Tribal members make up the committee, but it operates separately from the Tribal Council, Satti said. The Mashantuckets are also seriously considering setting up a foundation to handle its donations, he said. The foundation idea has been under study for some time, he said, and if it came to pass would operate under a tribal charter.

Satti said that gifts followed four criteria. The tribe preferred to make donations locally, "within a 50-mile radius." It targeted both minorities and inner cities. Or, fourthly, it gave to American Indian causes.

The tribe required applications in writing, he said. Although it made a few multi-million dollar gifts, such as a cumulative total of $10 million to the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, most of the requests were in the $5,000 to $20,000 range.

The Mashantuckets also sought to provide goods as well as to cut checks, he said, citing Thanksgiving gifts of winter clothing and groceries to families in several Plains tribes. It provided "in-kind" help to some local charities, giving them free use of banquet facilities for fund-raising dinners at its Foxwoods Casino Resort or another tribally owned hotel, the Norwich Spa. The cost of underwriting a fund-raiser for a local non-profit could run to thousands of dollars, he said, but the proceeds would provide a substantial portion of the group's budget.

Satti cited the tribe's support several years ago of a charitable ball for the restoration of the slave ship Amistad at the nearby Mystic Seaport and Aquarium. The project, commemorating a famous slave revolt and federal trial of the 1830s, satisfied several criteria, since it was both local and of interest to the African-American community. The tribe underwrote the ball, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the project.

The Mashantucket Pequot Athletic Commission also raises charity money through its annual Native American Classic Golf Tournament. "It raises an average of $120-130,000," said Satti. Last year's tournament in July produced three donations of $44,000 each to the Native American Sports Foundation, the Catch the Dream Foundation and the National Minority Junior Golf association.

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In addition, said Satti, the Foxwoods Casino and its employees also supported local charities, notably through the United Way.

Over the past 10 years, the tribe and its employees have raised more than $350,000 for Special Olympics Connecticut (SOC), separately from the tribe's contribution of $2 million to the 1995 Special Olympics World Games, hosted by Connecticut. The SOC Hall of Fame recently inducted the Mashantucket Pequots and Foxwoods with a Community Service Award for their contributions through employee talent show fund-raisers, golf tournaments and volunteer service at the games.

Some of the Mashantucket Pequot's largest donations have been the $10 million to the National Museum of the American Indian, $5 million to the Mystic Marinelife Aquarium and $2 million to the 1995 Special Olympics World Games in Connecticut.

Among its ongoing projects is the Foxwoods "Racing Against Cancer" auto racing team, which raised more than $250,000 for cancer cure research.

Over the past holiday season, the tribe donated used laptops, Pentium I and II computers, to governments and non-profits, including the town of Preston, Narragansett Tribe, private and public schools and the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center, a social service agency in New London County.

The tribe was a major contributor to keep the Greater Hartford Open golf tourney in Connecticut this year. It is also an original and continuing supporter of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling.

Donations for American Indian concerns have gone to the North American Fetal Alcohol Syndrome foundation (NAFAS) and the Native American Service Center in Syracuse, N.Y., which is expanding its provision of health services to six tribes in Upstate New York.

The Mashantuckets have also provided goods for families in Wounded Knee, S.D. and supplies for schools in Manderson, S.D., both on the Oglala Lakota nation's Pine Ridge Reservation. It also sent winter clothing and toys to more than 75 children of the Red Coat Chippewa of Minnesota.

Satti indicated that the tribe would continue to select its donations with care. "Sad to say, we have a budget," he said.