6.22.2007

Mohegans restore ancient burial ground

Mohegans restore ancient burial ground (by John Christoffersen, AP - 6.22.07)

The Mohegans were wiped out long ago in the novel "The Last of the Mohicans," but today the real American Indian tribe is flush with casino cash and using it to restore its proud past.

The Connecticut tribe has reclaimed the Mohegan Royal Burial Ground and is restoring it to pay homage to its famed Chief Uncas and his descendants, who were mythologized in James Fenimore Cooper's 1826 work.

The project has been dubbed "The Lasting of the Mohegans."

"Writing somebody out of history is another form of genocide," tribal historian Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel said. "We certainly can't allow Uncas to be forgotten."

The Mohegans operate one of the world's most successful casinos and are among about 50 tribes in the U.S. that have managed to reclaim burial grounds or other sacred sites, said Suzan Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute, an Indian rights organization in Washington.

In recent years, the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes have preserved a massacre site in Colorado, while the Nez Perce have taken control of worship sites in Idaho, Harjo said. Several tribes in California who operate casinos also have reclaimed burial grounds, she said.

"More and more, the native people are using newfound wealth to purchase what should be theirs anyway," Harjo said. But several hundred burial grounds and other sacred sites remain threatened by development, according to Harjo.

In Connecticut, the Mohegans tried for centuries to protect and reclaim their burial ground. But with few resources, the tribe had little leverage.

"The Royal Mohegan Burial Ground has been a source of anguish for the tribe since the 18th century," Tantaquidgeon Zobel said. "We hope that we have lived up to their expectations and given them some peace."

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Also see Mohegan Tribe Takes Historic Step to Permanently Preserve Royal Burial Grounds.