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Mohegan Indian Tribe
Total population
Regions with significant populations
English, originally Mohegan-Pequot language)
Related ethnic groups
Pequot people

The Mohegan Indian Tribe is a federally recognized tribe living on a reservation in the eastern upper Thames River valley of south-central Connecticut.[1] It is one of two federally recognized tribes in the state, the other being the Mashantucket Pequot. There are also three state-recognized tribes.

At the time of European contact, the Mohegan and Pequot were a unified tribal entity living in the lower Connecticut region, but the Mohegan gradually became independent. They were under Pequot rule briefly in the 1630s until European colonists defeated the Pequot in 1637 during the Pequot War. Under the leadership of Uncas, a sachem, the Mohegan became a separate tribe before the turn of the 18th century.[1][2] Uncas' name is meant to be Wonkus, which translates to fox.

The word Mohegan (pronounced /ˈmhɡæn/) translates in their respective Algonquin dialects (Mohegan-Pequot language) as "People of the Wolf".[3][4] As a nearly landless people, the Mohegan gradually lost their tribal status. In 1978, Chief Rolling Cloud Hamilton petitioned for federal recognition of the Mohegan. Descendants of his and another band of Mohegan people are independent of the federally recognized nation and still seeking recognition.

In 1994 a majority group gained federal recognition as the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut (MTIC).[5] They have been defined by the United States government as the "successor in interest to the aboriginal entity known as the Mohegan Indian Tribe."[6] The same year, under an act of Congress, the United States took land into trust to serve as a reservation for the Tribe. Many Mohegan now live on the Mohegan Reservation at 41°28′42″N 72°04′55″W / 41.47833°N 72.08194°W / 41.47833; -72.08194 near Uncasville in the Town of Montville, New London County.

The MTIC operate two Mohegan Sun Casinos: the first opened in 1996 at their reservation in Uncasville, and the second in 2006 at Pocono Downs, near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The MTIC have plans for additional sites. The casinos have maintained traditional Mohegan decoration. The Tribe also owns the Connecticut Sun, the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) team.


The Mohegan Indian Tribe was historically based in central southern Connecticut. While originally part of the Pequot people, it gradually became independent and served as allies of English colonists in the Pequot War of 1637, which broke the power of that formerly dominant tribe in the region. In reward, the English gave Pequot captives to the Mohegan.

In 1933 John E. Hamilton,[7][8] a.k.a. Chief Rolling Cloud, was appointed Grand Sachem for Life by his mother, Alice Storey, through the traditional selection process of chiefs based on heredity. She was a direct descendant of Uncas, the great 17th-century leader of the Mohegan Nation, and of Tamaquashad, Grand Sachem of the Pequot Nation. In Mohegan tradition, the position of tribal leadership called Grand Sachem had always been hereditary through the maternal line.

Gladys Tantaquidgeon, who lived to the age of 106 in 2005, served for years as the Tribe's medicine woman and unofficial historian. She had become an anthropologist and worked for a decade with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Returning to Connecticut, she operated her family's tribal Tantaquidgeon Museum for more than 50 years, beginning in 1947.[9] It was one of the first museums to be owned and operated by Native Americans.[10]

John Hamilton was a key figure among Native American leaders initiating late twentieth century land claims suits. Tribes in the Northeast had long interaction with European Americans, which had resulted in many of them becoming nearly landless. Settlement of land claims suits in the late 20th and 21st centuries was related to federal recognition for a number of Indian nations, particularly for the so-called "state tribes." These were tribes along the East Coast who had been recognized by the English Crown long before individual colonial or state governments had been established. But, as the Native people lost their traditional lands and were not assigned reservations, they did not maintain their sovereign legal status associated with federal recognition.

In the 1960s, during a period of rising activism among Native Americans, Hamilton filed a number of land claims authorized by the "Council of Descendants of Mohegan Indians." The group had some 300 members at the time.

In 1970 the Montville faction of the Mohegans expressed its dissatisfaction with Hamilton's land-claims litigation. They wanted a change in direction. When the Hamilton supporters left the meeting, the remainder elected Courtland Fowler as their new leader. Notes of that Council meeting referred to Hamilton as Sachem.[11]

The group led by John Hamilton worked with the attorney Jerome Griner in federal land claims through the 1970s. The Fowler faction opposed this. In addition, a Kent, Connecticut property owners' organization, with native and non-native members, opposed the Hamilton land claims and the petition for federal recognition, as the people were worried about effects on their properties.

Federal process for recognition

In response to the desire of more tribes to gain federal recognition, in 1978, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) established a formal administrative process and criteria to be satisfied to prove cultural continuity. That year, as authorized by the Council of Descendants, Hamilton submitted the Mohegan Tribe's first petition for Federal recognition.

John Hamilton died in 1988. In his will, he named Eleanor Fortin as the Grand Sachem of the Mohegan people. She became the leader of the "Hamilton group," which continued to contend with the "Fowler faction" over tribal policy. Despite their disagreements, both groups continued to participate in tribal activities and to identify as members of the Mohegan people.

By 1989, the Fowler faction had revived Hamilton's 1978 petition for federal recognition, which had been dormant for some years. The BIA's preliminary finding was that the Mohegan had not satisfied the criteria of documenting continuity in social community, and political authority and influence as a tribe through the twentieth century.

In 1990, the Mohegan under Fowler submitted a detailed response to meet the BIA's concerns. They included compiled genealogies and other records, some of which had been collected and preserved by Hamilton and his followers. For instance, Eleanor Fortin had allowed the MTIC researchers access to records pertaining to the Mohegan Congregational Church in Montville. The researchers had assured Fortin that if Federal recognition were achieved, it would cover the entire surviving Mohegan population. They also used records maintained by Gladys Tantaquidgeon, who had kept genealogy and vital statistics of tribal members for her anthropological research.[12][9]

In 1990, the MTIC ruled the tribe's membership be restricted to documented descendants from a single family, ca. 1860. This criteria excludes some of the Hamilton followers. By law, a Federally recognized tribe has the authority to determine its own rules for membership. The MTIC tried to sue other Mohegan over their use of the tribal identity as well as their crafting, but they did so unsuccessfully.[13]

Final determination, 1994

In its 1994 "Final Determination," the BIA cited the vital statistics and genealogies as documents that were decisive in demonstrating "that the tribe did indeed have social and political continuity during the middle of the 20th century."[14] The former Fowler group gained federal recognition as the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut (MTIC). They have not acknowledged John Hamilton as Grand Sachem in their history, but say that Harold Tantaquidgeon was their chief prior to the era of Federal recognition.

That same year, Congress passed the Mohegan Nation (Connecticut) Land Claim Settlement Act, which authorized the United States to take land into trust to establish a reservation for the Mohegan and settle their land claim. The final 1994 agreement between MTIC and the State in the settlement of land claims extinguished all pending land claims.[14]

The Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut is the only federally recognized tribe of the Mohegan people.

Descendants of the followers of John Hamilton continue to function as a Mohegan band independently of the MTIC. They hold periodic gatherings and activities.


The MTIC adopted a written constitution. They elect a chairman and the tribal council, who serve for specific terms.

In 1997, they adopted the vision statement: "We walk as a single spirit on the Trail of Life."[15]

Extinction and revival of language

The last living native speaker of the Mohegan language, Fidelia "Flying Bird" A. Hoscott Fielding, died in 1908. The Mohegan language was recorded primarily in a Smithsonian Institution report made by the early anthropologist, Frank Speck, who lived with Fielding and recorded much of her testimony.[16][17] Her niece, Gladys Tantaquidgeon, worked to preserve the language.[9] Since 2012, the Mohegan Tribe has established a project to revive its language and establish new generations of native speakers.


An infusion of bark removed from the south side of the silver maple tree is used by the Mohegan for cough medicine.[18] The Mohegan also use the inner bark of the sugar maple as a cough remedy, and the sap as a sweetening agent and to make maple syrup.[19]

Confusion among tribal names

Although similar in name, the Mohegan are a different tribe from the Mahican, who were another branch in the Algonquian language family. The latter were historically based along the upper Hudson River in present-day eastern New York. In the United States, both tribes have been referred to in various historic documents by the spelling "Mohican", based on a mistake in translation.[20] But, the Dutch colonist Adriaen Block, one of the first Europeans to record the names of both tribes, distinguished between the "Morhicans" and the "Mahicans, Mahikanders, Mohicans, [or] Maikens".[20][21] Under pressure from colonists during the American Revolution, many moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts after 1780, and later to the Oneida reservation in western New York. During the 1820s they removed to Wisconsin.[1]

In addition, some people confuse the Mohegan with Mohawk of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy), but they are a different language and ethnic group. They were historically based west of the Hudson River, dominating the Mohawk River Valley and larger area. Most now live on reservations in Canada, as they were allies of the British during the American Revolutionary War and forced to cede their lands afterward.

Most descendants of the Mohegan tribe, by contrast, have continued to live in New England, and particularly Connecticut, since the colonial era. In 1994, they gained federal recognition and a reservation in the settlement of a major land claims case, in their traditional territory of south central Connecticut.

Notable Mohegan

  • Emma Fielding Baker, revivalist of the Green Corn Ceremony and Tribal Chairperson
  • Fidelia Hoscott Fielding (1827–1908), last native speaker of the Mohegan-Pequot language.
  • John E. Hamilton (1897-1988), Grand Sachem Chief Rolling Cloud, Indian rights activist[7]
  • Samson Occom (1723–1792), Presbyterian minister, who helped relocate the Brothertown Indians to New York state.
  • Gladys Tantaquidgeon (1899–2005), anthropologist, herbalist, co-founder of the Tantaquidgeon Museum. Worked to preserve Mohegan culture through the 20th century.
  • Uncas (c. 1588 – c. 1683), first sachem of the Mohegans
  • Mahomet Weyonomon, sachem who traveled to England in 1735 to seek better treatment of his people
  • Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel (née Melissa Jane Fawcett),[22] Mohegan Tribal Historian and author of several books on Mohegan culture, including Medicine Trail: The Life and Lessons of Gladys Tantaquidgeon (2000)[15][23][24]

In popular culture

  • The Mohegan Tribal Historian,[23] Melissa Jane Fawcett, has become known as the "ambassador" of the MTIC because of her four books on Mohegan culture. These include a 2000 biography of Gladys Tantaquidgeon.[15]

See also

Indigenous peoples of North America portal


External links

  • Mohegan Tribe Homepage
  • Native American Mohegans
  • Mohegan Nation (Connecticut) Land Claim Settlement Act of 1994
  • Davies, Lindrith, "Casinos and Nations", self-published at Understand Connecticut website
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