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Love endures despite tribe's hellish problems

By LORI ANN POTTER

Publication: The Day

Published October 08. 2013 4:00AM

As a local blogger I'm no stranger when it comes to sharing my thoughts regarding issues that have plagued the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. With this in mind, I'm compelled to respond to the Oct. 5, 2013 editorial titled "Tale of the Thomases" with hopes that, as a tribal member, I might shed a unique perspective on a community rocked by decades of wealth, extraordinary debt and ongoing controversy.

Michael and Steven Thomas are distant cousins of mine. Although I know neither of them personally, I've observed them in leadership over many years. I have listened as they spoke out at hundreds of tribal meetings. I've butted heads with them on occasion. I've laughed with them from time to time, and I've even bear-hugged them at powwows and funerals. That's what families do. With this in mind, what I have to say next will likely raise a few eyebrows.

I believe the Thomas brothers were captives to my tribe's political environment.

Please understand I do not excuse or dismiss anything that culminated toward the financial demise of my community.

In fact, to be blatantly honest, my tribe has been through hell. Every family now struggles because of the financial throes of recent years, yet, despite overwhelming stress in the shadows of organizational restructuring, a growing awareness is taking root. It's the kind of awareness cultivated from deep, soulful reflections of what we've been through and the lessons we might learn from our mistakes.

With this in mind, I believe one of our greatest challenges at Mashantucket exists within my tribe's constitutional powers of government.

Simply put, when a political clique of 200 people collides with a tribal council holding the power to do anything they want with the tribe's resources uncontested, it's a recipe for disaster.

Leaders who make and interpret their own laws often face temptation to believe they are above the law. They can easily become absorbed in a vicious cycle of jealousy and selfish ambition, fueling disorder and evil among themselves. (See James 3:16 KJV.) Michael and Steven suffer publicly because of decisions made during a time when both likely felt invincible. So far, Michael has been convicted at trial and Steven has pleaded guilty to theft from the tribe. Sentencing is pending for both men. Even before the final court action, you state: "…there is no denying these convictions have sullied the tribe's image."

Oh how quickly we forget folks like Gov. John G. Rowland and Providence Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci. Shockingly. Neither of these former governors managed to tarnish the images of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Why? It's simple. Just as they did not represent the value systems of the states where they governed, neither do the Thomases represent my tribe. In reality, a majority of us are either ignorant toward the politics of the last 20 years or have grown chronically disillusioned. Some have given up on challenging the powers that be, as if beating their heads repeatedly against a brick wall scarcely left them with any hope for change. Others are disenfranchised for refusing to buy into the political hustle.

Still others feel their voices simply don't matter, or if they did speak out, they fear retribution. What my people need most is prayer, not public ridicule.

As for the Thomas brothers, they are simply human. Yet, what I find most extraordinary in the wake of these trials is my community's resilience. I've witnessed a growing movement of mercy and forgiveness. The Thomas brothers are loved. My tribe is willing to carry them through a tough season. We don't eat our own.

The heart of my people is alive, and our growing willingness to love, learn from one another, and rebuild a legacy of hope is, in my opinion, worth every bit of the shaking it took to get here.

Lori Ann Potter is the former media spokeswoman and public relations director for Foxwoods and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. She now writes a blog called Memoirs and Musings of a Mashantucket Pequot. For more information, visit: www.loripotter.com.

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