Without Reservation is a history of how the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, composed mostly of Caucasians and African Americans who exaggerated or fabricated their Native American ancestry, rose to power in the 1980s and 1990s. In addition, it exposes how they were corrupted by money, power, and influence, creating and essentially looting the world’s largest casino-resort complex. The first third of the book traces the Pequots’ formation in the early 1970s, when Indian rights attorney Tom Tureen sought the location of a defunct Pequot reservation near Ledyard, Connecticut.
Tureen met Richard “Skip” Hayward, a laborer and failed preacher with rather dubious claims of Indian ancestry; his grandmother was the daughter of a black father and a mother listed as Indian on some documents. (Benedict 146) Declaring himself an Indian (which he had never done before), Hayward basically charmed his way into becoming chief of a tribe who history was at best murky, attracting a growing number of members whose Indian blood was as non-existent as his own. Most were Hayward’s own relatives; said Tureen, “The Pequots are all Haywards.
” (Benedict 59) With Tureen’s help, Hayward gained political power and access to government money by arousing and shrewdly manipulating public sympathy for Native Americans. The tribe’s members were mostly non-Indian, simply claiming identity with an oppressed people was convincing enough; according to Tureen, “We never had to lie or mislead anybody. . . . We were never questioned about those other aspects. ” (Benedict 117) In 1992, the Mashantucket Pequot opened Foxwoods, then the world’s largest casino, on tribal land and with funding by both the federal government and Chinese-Malaysian financiers Lim Goh Tong and Colin Au.
(Benedict 213) The casino, exempt from paying taxes, was then the only such resort in New England and proved itself quickly profitable; its 1995 gambling profits exceeded $300 million. (Benedict 295-296) Though Hayward was something of a con artist (he had been a failed blue-collar laborer and preacher, and his revival of the Pequot tribe smacked of chicanery), he was ambitious and tried to build Foxwoods into a larger complex, with a wide array of entertainment offerings, including an Indian museum.
However, many of the newly-attracted members had hoped to avoid working and live for free on the reservation; as it was, Hayward provided members living there with homes, stipends, and free college educations. Ultimately, tribal elder Kenny Reels, whose Indian ancestry was as dubious and invented as Hayward’s (Benedict 232-234), led a disgruntled group of members and deposed Hayward as leader, aiming instead of skim and enjoy the profits. Said one member: “I haven’t got my first million. My wife’s got to work. People should be enjoying themselves. Why can’t I have a BMW?
” (Benedict 293) Ironically, Hayward, a somewhat shady character, had tried to behave as a legitimate leader and businessman after Foxwoods opened, only to be ousted by former supporters. Today, Foxwoods brings in immense amounts of money but is deeply in debt due to the current Pequot leaders’ gross mismanagement. RELATIONSHIP TO CLASS Without Reservation relates to the hospitality industry by illustrating some of the less savory aspects of gaming, giving ample detail of the political maneuvering necessary to bring both the Mashantucket Pequot and Foxwoods into existence.
Hayward was basically a classic huckster, promoting himself as an Indian (which misled Tureen and many others who helped him) and envisioned a grand project that would make him and his followers rich. The tribe used its political connections to overcome not only fierce local opposition to the casino in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but also environmental regulations (from which Indian casinos are exempt, like taxes). Foxwoods’ construction irrevocably changed the surrounding countryside, removing thousands of trees and much of the local wildlife.
(Benedict 226-227) Like many businesses, gaming depends on those relationships to politicians on various levels, but gaming is more controversial due to communities’ concerns about the effects casinos supposedly have – namely, increases in crime and political corruption. Indeed, the Pequot reservation and surrounding communities witnessed a sharp rise in violence and drug activity in the late 1990s, widely attributed to the casino. Indeed, current tribal leader Kenny Reels’ own nephew was imprisoned for rape and drug offenses. (Benedict 347)
In addition, it shows the perils of mismanagement. Skip Hayward, while not a polished professional with a business background, tried to run Foxwoods and the tribe cleanly, carefully watching the profits and planning to put them back into future expansions. Sensing a “classic product cycle” when Foxwoods’ novelty began wearing off, Hayward tried to add shopping, a museum, and other venues. (Benedict 266-267) However, an accomplished CEO who fired a crooked auditor was forced to quit, shortly before Hayward himself was ousted by a corrupt element of the tribal leadership.
Since then, the casino continues to enjoy high revenues from gambling but is in serious financial disarray; because tribal leaders have routinely dipped into the profits for their own uses (and for their supporters), Foxwoods has had trouble repaying its construction loans and has descended into deep debt. CRITIQUE A fast read for its length, Without Reservation is very well-written, with clear, strong prose and a brisk narrative.
While an expose, the book is not written in a sensational style, but rather more like a tight fictional narrative. It exposes the shady political machinations behind both the tribe’s “revival” (if indeed the Mashantucket ever genuinely existed) and the casino’s creation, as well as the infighting between Skip Hayward and Kenny Reels. The book has two main ironies; the first involves Hayward’s own dubious background and evolution into a relatively honest figure, while the second involves race.
The tribe drew both white and black recruits from the Northeast, many of whom came from poor backgrounds and saw membership in the Mashantucket Pequot as a means of getting rich without effort. Reels, a black Rhode Islander with a small amount of supposedly Indian blood, exploited the racial differences between the factions to force out Hayward and his adherents. The tribe, intended to unite the races in a race to which none actually belonged, split apart along mainly racial lines.
In general, this book offers keen insights into not only the creation of the world’s largest casino but also into how racial identity is manipulated for political and financial reasons, how a group of poor outsiders used public sympathy to gain federal recognition (and money) with virtually no evidence of their Indian ancestry, and how greed and mistrust ultimately ruined the tribe’s key figures. It manages to tell a complex, scandalous, somewhat tragic story without exaggeration or sensation, making it a straightforward, rewarding read.
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