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November 07, 2014

Meet Native America: Kevin P. Brown, Chairman of the Mohegan Tribe

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh 


Chairman Brown and Matagha
Chairman Kevin P. Brown, Mohegan Tribe, standing beside a bronze statue of his
great-grandfather, Chief Matagha (Burrill Fielding). Mohegan Reservation,
Uncasville, Connecticut, 2013.


Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Kevin P. Brown, chairman, Mohegan Tribe.

Can you share your name in your language and what it means? 

Wompsuhq Masqaq (Whomp-suk Mas-kwak)—it means Red Eagle. Mother was Red Feather, Grandmother was Red Bird, Father was Irish. I retired as a colonel from the U.S. Army after 25 years of service, including a few years fighting against an insurgency. What is the relevance of that to my name? The symbol for the rank of colonel is an eagle. There is also a famous half-Indian figure in history—William Weatherford, but—whose Creek name translates to Red Feather; he fought in the Creek War of 1813–14 against the United States.

Where is your tribe located?

The Mohegan Reservation is 544 acres astride the Thames River near Uncasville, Connecticut. Uncasville is named for the famous Mohegan Sachem Uncas (ca. 1588–1683).

Where was your tribe originally from?

We trace our ancestry back to the times of Uncas here on this same piece of land where our reservation sits today, with ties to Upstate New York before migration to Connecticut.

What is a significant point in history from the Mohegan Tribe that you would like to share?

Given that this month is Native American Heritage Month and the month in which we celebrate Veterans Day, coupled with my own service as a veteran, I’d like to share the story of Mohegan tribal member Samuel Ashbow, who was born around 1746. When the American Revolution broke out against the Crown, Mohegan men joined on the side of the rebels. Tribal historians have found 51 of our young men on the muster rolls, log books, and payrolls of the fledgling force, with eight of our men having fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Of particular note, the first Native American to give his life in the defense of this land we call America was Mohegan tribal member Samuel Ashbow, who died fighting at the famous “rail fence” at Bunker Hill in 1775.

Mohegan veterans 2014
Chairman Brown (left) with Mohegan veterans and artist John Herz (standing, fourth from left). Herz's drawing shows the Mohegan volunteer Samuel Ashbow fighting alongside a Massachusetts militiaman at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Mohegan Reservation, Uncasville, Connecticut, August 2014. 


How is your tribal government set up?

By our constitution, the tribe is governed by the Mohegan people, represented by a nine-member Tribal Council and seven-member Council of Elders

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

In addition to the governing bodies described above, the tribe has elected a ceremonial lifetime chief in 2010. She is Lynn Malerba "Many Hearts," is a great-grandchild of former tribal Chief Burrill Fielding (as am I).

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Councilors are elected by the adult tribal membership for four-year staggered terms. This is true for both the Tribal Council and the Council of Elders. 

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

The council meets in open session every week and meets with the tribal membership quarterly, a meeting that also includes the Council of Elders and the chief.

What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman?

I have dual responsibilities: As chairman, I am the chief executive officer of the tribe and the head of the executive branch of government. Additionally, I serve as the chairman of the board for the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which oversees all of our Mohegan Sun gaming ventures. 

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

Twenty-five years of active duty service in the U.S. Army provided me a career of leadership opportunities from the platoon level, 38 soldiers, to the garrison command level, where I was responsible for the training, military readiness, support, budgeting, and overall health and welfare of 18,000 soldiers and their family members—essentially the role of mayor and city manager for a 55,000-person community.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My grandmother Loretta Fielding (Red Bird) and my mother, Pauline Fielding Shultz Brown (Red Feather), were tribal nonners, a title given by the Mohegan Tribe to women held in great respect. They inspired me to be proud of my Mohegan heritage from a young age. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who? 

Yes, Chief Burrill Fielding "Matagha," who served the tribe in that position from 1937 to the time of his death in 1952.

How many members are in the Mohegan Tribe?

Approximately 2,020.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?

There are no remaining fluent speakers, but we do maintain a language class where we teach tribal members conversational Mohegan on a sustained basis.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority (MGTA) owns and operates Mohegan Sun, a casino–resort in Uncasville, Connecticut. It is the largest casino in the Western Hemisphere and grosses nearly $1 billion in gaming revenue. The MTGA also owns and operates Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. We are now following a diversified business approach that includes restaurant franchise agreements with Arooga’s and Smashburger restaurants, a wood-pellet business (ThermaGlo), and an office machine joint venture with LDI (Leslie Digital Imaging) for office technology solutions. That venture is called KOTA (a Mohegan word meaning "in close association"). 

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

Our Mohegan powwow is traditionally known as Wigwam and has also been known as the Green Corn Festival. It is an annual event held in mid-August. During that same week, we host a tribal homecoming and several cultural and heritage activities sponsored by our Cultural and Community Programs Department. The latter events are private to the tribe, but the Wigwam is open to the public and includes dancers and drum groups from all across the country.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

In addition to Mohegan Sun, which is located on reservation land, we have Fort Shantok on the banks of the Thames River. Fort Shantok is a place of tremendous historical significance for the Mohegan Tribe, hearkening back to the times of Chief Uncas in the 1600s. It is open to the public except during times of private tribal events. The land now includes recreational activity and outdoor gathering space, along with our tribal burial ground and a ceremonial sacred fire pit.

The Tantaquidgeon Museum is open to the public and located in Uncasville, near Mohegan Sun and our current tribal headquarters. It holds art and artifacts from the Mohegan Tribe and other Native Americans. It was established in 1931 by the Tantaquidgeon family.  

How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?

That's a complex question, but a simple answer is that we work together on a nation-to-nation footing, including participation in all tribal consultations with the federal government, much as all other federally recognized tribes do.

Cultural with Chief and Chairman
Chief Lynn Malerba (third from left) and Chairman Brown (sixth from left) with members of the Mohegan Cultural and Community Programs Department during a Connecticut state celebration of Native American heritage. Connecticut State Capitol, Hartford, Connecticut, 2013. 


What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribe?

I'd like to stress the importance for tribal youth to be involved in understanding the concept of sovereignty, the importance of effective self-governance, and the importance of sustaining our tribal culture. The value of these things cannot be overstated if we are to ensure the survival of our tribal identities. 

Thank you. 


All photographs are courtesy of the Mohegan Tribe, used with permission.


To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. 
Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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