Looking back for strength
By Ann Baldelli
Publication: The Day
Published 12/13/2009 12:00 0
When Lynn Malerba was elected the first female chairwoman of the Mohegan Tribe two months ago, her mother Loretta Roberge offered some advice.
"All I said is, 'As long as you remain honest, keep your feet on the ground and work for the betterment of the tribe, everything will be fine,’" Roberge recalled saying to her daughter on the historic occasion.
In a long line of notable leaders, dating all the way back to the 1635-83 tenure of the revered sachem Uncas, Malerba is one of only a handful of women to fill a key Mohegan leadership role.
Upon her election in early October, she invoked the memory and contributions of past female tribal leaders like medicine women Gladys Tantaquidgeon and Emma Baker, and others, including her own mother. Roberge served 30 years as a tribal councilor and is a 50-plus-year member of the Mohegan's burial committee.
But while women have made significant contributions to the tribe and filled culturally important positions, Malerba is the Mohegan's first elected female leader in modern history, and perhaps ever.
Commenting on her daughter's new role, Roberge said she is simply carrying on a family tradition. Roberge's paternal grandfather, Burrill H. Fielding, better known as Chief Matahga, led the tribe from 1937-52.
But more recent tribal leaders face vastly different challenges than their predecessors did, with the Mohegan's billion-dollar gaming empire the focus now. The economic downturn has cut into the tribe's profits at Mohegan Sun and Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, with the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority reporting a net income of $119.3 million at the end of September, down 20.0 percent from the year before.
Malerba's challenge will be guiding the 1,800-member tribe and its casino-resort businesses through the tough financial times, balancing the needs of tribal members and government with the responsibility of keeping a Fortune 500-like operation in the black.
It's not going to be easy. Recent tribal chairmen have been replaced after a single term, taking the heat for the difficult decisions they have made.
For Malerba's mother, Roberge, it was a different time. She served much of her council tenure before the tribe was federally recognized in 1994 and opened the first phase of its Mohegan Sun casino in 1996.
Not that the pre-recognition/pre-casino councils didn't have headaches of their own. They did.
At meetings they would take up collections to pay for a ream of paper and roll of stamps, the tools they needed to wage their lifelong effort to win federal recognition and the health, education and housing benefits it would afford.
Meeting at homes or in the Mohegan Church, councilors pieced together the documentation necessary to make their federal case as an enduring social and political unit, a community, required to win recognition and its benefits.
And when in 1989 the tribe was initially denied that right because of a gap in evidence during the 1940s and 50s, it was its women who produced the birth announcements, wedding reception lists, and obituaries that sealed the case proving the Mohegan Tribe had been a steady presence in Uncasville (named for sachem Uncas) for nearly two centuries.
Recognition and the casino has afforded the Mohegans improved health care, education and housing, as well as other benefits. But it has also changed its government, adding the responsibility of overseeing a billion-dollar business.
Twenty-five years ago Roberge and others chipped in for the stamps and paper, and to pay the bill for the tribe's first phone, which was kept locked in a closet at the Mohegan Church. Today, the Mohegans have 8,000 phones at their casino and government offices and send out 13.5 million pieces of mail annually.
Times have changed and so have the responsibilities.
Malerba, 56, who has worked as a health care manager in the private sector and for the tribe, has a master's degree in public policy from the University of Connecticut. But her greatest asset as tribal chairwoman is her heritage. She was raised a Mohegan, on Mohegan Hill, in a large extended family that never once doubted that one day the Mohegans would be recognized for who they are - a proud Indian tribe.
No doubt there will be difficult days ahead for Chairwoman Malerba, but when they arrive, she can look for inspiration from other Mohegans who served before her.
Ann Baldelli is associate editorial page editor
EDITORIAL FOOTNOTE: A Mohegan tribal member called me on Sunday and said, have you read the article in the Sunday New London Day? His comment was that he felt Lynn Malerba was running scared. I read and posted the article. You be the judge.
Tribal members reminded me, that lots of tribal members bought stamps and pitched in over the years, before there was a Mohegan Sun Casino. Not just the people mentioned in the article. Does anyone, remember? Are these tribal members correct?
Did Chairwoman Malerba vote to build the Earth Tower Hotel (Project Horizon)? Did Lynn vote to build the Mohegan Tribal Government Community Center, without the financing in place? Did Lynn vote to do the permanent facility at Pocono Downs? Could the answer to the three questions be yes?
Are the CRANES OF SHAME, finally coming down? Is it a tribute to the stupidity of the Tribal Council? Was it poor planning? Is Malerba and her fellow Tribal Councilors, to blame for the financial situation, the Mohegan Tribe finds itself in?
Is the ECONOMY an excuse for poor decisions by the Tribal Council? Is the article hinting of cutbacks for Mohegan Tribal Members?
By taking the CRANES OF SHAME down, is the Mohegan Tribal Council telling us (the Mohegan Tribe) something? Is the article hinting of upcoming doom?
Is the article hinting that Malerba can't do much about the financial situation, the Mohegan Tribe finds itself in? What do you think?
PLEASE READ THE ARTICLE IN TODAYS FEATHER NEWS ABOUT THE FINANCIAL SITUATION OF THE MOHEGAN TRIBE AND ETESS's COMMENTS ABOUT THE STIPENDS.