- Learning from Foxwoods:Visualizing the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation
Since the passage in 1988 of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which recognized the authority of Native American tribal groups to operate gaming facilities free from state and federal oversight and taxation, gambling has emerged as a major industry in Indian Country. Casinos offer poverty-stricken reservation communities confined to meager slices of marginal land unprecedented economic self-sufficiency and political power.1 As of 2004, 226 of 562 federally recognized tribal groups were in the gaming business, generating a total of $16.7 billion in gross annual revenues.2 During the past two decades the proceeds from tribally owned bingo halls, casinos, and the ancillary infrastructure of a new, reservation-based tourist industry have underwritten educational programs, language and cultural revitalization, social services, and not a few successful Native land claims. However, while these have been boom years in many ways for some Native groups, these same two decades have also seen, on a global scale, the obliteration of trade and political barriers and the creation of frictionless markets and a geographically dispersed labor force, as the flattening forces of the marketplace have steadily eroded the authority of the nation as traditionally conceived. As many recent commentators have noted, deterritorialization and disorganization are endemic to late capitalism.3
These conditions have implications for Native cultures. Plains Cree artist, critic, and curator Gerald McMaster has asked, "As aboriginal people struggle to reclaim land and to hold onto their present land, do their cultural identities remain stable? When aboriginal government becomes a reality, how will the local cultural identities act as centers for nomadic subjects?"4 Foxwoods Casino, a vast and highly profitable gaming, [End Page 204] resort, and entertainment complex on the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in southwestern Connecticut, might serve as a test case for McMaster's question. Initial financing for Foxwoods was provided for the Pequots by Lim Goh Tong, a Chinese Malaysian businessman and investor whose Kuala Lumpur–based corporation is known for having developed Genting Highlands, the largest casino, resort, and entertainment complex in Southeast Asia.5 But rather than being deterritorialized by mortgaging their nationhood to overseas investors, the Pequots have managed to harness the centrifugal forces of the global marketplace to shore up their own centripetal claims to a place-based identity, pouring casino profits into an impressive array of community-building projects. The Pequots have succeeded in turning precisely those economic forces that have devastated so many other rural and traditional communities to their own advantage. In what follows I examine how the Pequots have embraced multinational corporations and the boundless international space of late capitalism to underwrite their exemption from state and local authority and shore up an expression of tribal sovereignty and the bounded space of the reservation. I analyze how Pequot nationhood is given visual form at Foxwoods Casino and consider why and for whom such representations are staged.
Visualizing Pequot Ascendancy
The Rainmaker is a twelve-foot-tall, forty-five-hundred-pound, cast translucent-polyurethane sculpture of a well-muscled and formidable Native American hunter, bow drawn and aimed heavenward. The hunter crouches on one knee, shirtless and dressed in breechcloth and moccasins, on a rocky outcropping that rises from a shallow pool amid a grove of artificial trees in a sky-lit atrium at the center of Foxwoods. Much like the famous talking sculptures that tell the story of Atlantis in the forum shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, the Rainmaker comes to life in an hourly fog and light show. A recorded narration relates the saga of the Pequots, on whose land the Rainmaker kneels. Over the din of slot machines and table games and the clatter of the nearby all-you-can-eat buffet, a solemn voice recounts the story of the glaciers that once covered the region, their gradual thaw, the coming of flora and fauna, and the arrival of the "Ancient Ones," the ancestors of the Pequots—nomadic hunters and gatherers who settled in what is now Long Island Sound [End Page 205] and founded a civilization. At the end of the story a laser beam shoots from the tip of...