Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation
Enrolled members:920 
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States Connecticut|
|English, formerly Pequot|
|Related ethnic groups|
The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation is a Native American group based in southeastern Connecticut, descended from the historic Pequot tribe who dominated southeastern New England. It is one of five tribes recognized by the state of Connecticut.
In 2002 the Secretary of the Interior granted recognition to the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation (EPTN) after approving a union between the Eastern Pequot and Paucatuck Eastern Pequot, who had submitted separate petitions for recognition. It said their documentation showed through genealogy and history they had been one tribe, and only recently were divided over a dispute. The tribes agreed.
In 2005, after a civil suit and internal review, with a background of strong lobbying against federal recognition by the Connecticut state government, Congressional delegation, and certain anti-gaming interests, and a change in the presidential administration, the Bureau of Indian Affairs revoked the recognition. That year, it had earlier revoked recognition from the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, which it had approved in 2004. These were the first times since the 1970s that the BIA had terminated recognition of any tribes. In 2012, the ETPN filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn BIA's revocation.
All Pequots are descended from the tribe that was the dominant power in southeastern New England in the 1600s. Following the Pequot War in 1637, in which hundreds were killed by the English and their Indian allies, many surviving Pequots were assigned to the supervision of tribes who had been English allies: the Mohegan in the west and Narragansett in the eastern part of the region. These tribes also spoke branches of the Algonquian languages.
As the Bureau of Indian Affairs said in 2002, "Those Pequots whom the colonial government removed from the supervision of the Eastern Niantic sachem Ninigret in 1654 were subsequently governed by two Indian rulers: Harmon Garrett and Momoho. The Colony of Connecticut purchased the Lantern Hill land for Momoho's Pequots in 1683. Since then there has been an unbroken history of state recognition and a reservation for this tribe."
The Eastern Pequot are descended from Pequots who escaped from the Narragansett and returned to their traditional territory, joining free members. In 1683, they were given a reservation on Lantern Hill in North Stonington by the colonial government. Today it is approximately 224 acres.
Those who returned from the Mohegan in the west were led by Harmon Garrett. The colony gave them a reserve near Ledyard and they became known as the Western Pequot, or Mashantucket Pequot. Both groups intermarried with members of other ethnic groups through the centuries, but maintained cultural continuity through traditional crafts and practices, most residents living on the reservations, and their matrilineal system of kinship and descent. Children born to Pequot mothers were raised as and considered Pequot. Most descendants are multi-racial, while fully identifying as Pequot.
By the 1920s and 1930s, the tribe began to be divided over questions of identity, aggravated by competition for resources and limited space on the Eastern Pequot Reservation. There were racially based conflicts between darker and lighter-skinned descendants among both the Eastern Pequot and the Mashantucket Pequot in this period.
Among the Eastern Pequot, a chief in the 1930s challenged the right of dark-skinned descendants of Tamar Brushel, an early 19th-century resident of the reservation, to claim membership. Others said that dark-skinned descendants of Manuel Sebastian, an immigrant from the Azores, should not be allowed membership. Both men had married Pequot women and their descendants were considered tribal members throughout the 19th century, living on the reservation.
Quest for federal recognition
In a period of rising Indian activism, the Eastern Pequot started seeking federal recognition in 1979. With the membership dispute still in force, in 1990 about 150 members initiated a separate petition for federal recognition as the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot. Most members of both groups have continued to live on the 224-acre reservation.
The Eastern Pequot contended they satisfied federal criteris:
- they had maintained identification within the larger community as an Indian tribe;
- have been a distinct community;
- maintained political authority over members;
- current members are descended from members of a historical Indian tribe; and
- a majority of members lived on or near the reservation and had family ties.
In 1998 the Bureau of Indian Affairs was reviewing both petitions together. Ronald Wolf Jackson, the treasurer of the Eastern Pequot, characterized the groups' differences as a "leadership dispute" and said he thought a "fair review" of their petitions would demonstrate there was one tribe. Some supporters of the Paucatuck contended the Eastern Pequot wanted a casino gaming deal; both groups denied interest in a casino. A spokesman for the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot said that Sebastian descendants had taken over the "true" Pequot. At the time, a Sebastian descendant was tribal chair of the Eastern Pequot.
In March 2000, the BIA recommended recognition of the tribes in its preliminary finding. Mary Sebastian, chair of the 770-member Eastern Pequot Nation, and James A. Cunha, Jr., chair of the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots, who had about 150 members, were both delighted. During its final review, the BIA encouraged the two groups to reunite, noting that the historical evidence showed they were members of one tribe, with common ancestors and history on the shared reservation. Their political disputes were relatively recent.
In June 2002 the Secretary of the Interior granted recognition to the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation. By October of that year, the Attorney General of Connecticut had filed an appeal with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, a court of the Department of Interior. It could not overturn a decision, but recommend more review by the department. Worried about the tribe developing a third gaming casino in the state, Connecticut officials contended the BIA had erred in granting recognition to the united tribe.
In 2005, after additional internal review, the BIA revoked recognition of the EPTN. That year, it had earlier revoked recognition of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation in Connecticut, which it had recognized in 2004.
In January 2012, the Eastern Pequot filed a lawsuit in the US District Court in Washington, DC, seeking to overturn the BIA's revocation of its recognition. State and local leaders met in February to discuss the issues. They had opposed recognition because they believe the tribe would develop a large casino, and they were concerned about the adverse effects of such operations on local communities. The Eastern Pequot's reservation is near the Foxwoods Resort operated by the Mashantucket Pequot.
- ROBERT D. McFADDEN, "Indian Bureau Recommends Federal Recognition for Two Pequot Tribes in Connecticut", New York Times, 25 March 2000, accessed 20 March 2013
- Sam Libby, "Pequot Tribe Seeks Recognition", New York Times, 20 December 1998, accessed 21 March 2013
- DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, "Two Feuding Indian Tribes Are Recognized, but as One", 25 June 2002, accessed 21 March 2013
- PAUL ZIELBAUER, "Federal Court Agrees to Hear State's Appeal On Tribal Issue", New York Times, 26 October 2002, accessed 21 March 2013
- "Schaghticoke and Eastern Pequot decisions reversed", Indian Country Today, 2005
- JAMES MOSHER, "Eastern Pequot tribe fighting for recognition", The Bulletin (Norwich), 6 February 2012, accessed 21 March 2013
- "Easterns Welcome Union Membership for Possible Casino", The Westerly Sun, 4 September 2004