Don Healy's

The Mohegan

As one of the United States' newest federally recognized tribes, the Mohegan, or improperly pronounced as Mohican, nation spans many centuries of interaction with the white man. The tribe is most famous for its fictional extinction written about by James Fenimore Cooper in his novel, "The Last of the Mohicans" (ENAT, 142-143).

The tribe never did die out. In fact, they continued to thrive in Lower New England far after Mr. Cooper "wiped them out". They recently won federal recognition after a more than thirty year battle through the courts to prove to the Bureau of Indian Affairs that they really exist.

Federal recognition by the government of the United States is an economically significant achievement for any Native American people. There are actually several classifications of Indian tribes, federally recognized being the most sought after (NAA, 237). Below that is "pending recognition", an acknowledgement by the federal government that there is some validity to the claim, but not yet fully accepted. Then there is "state recognition". This status usually confers upon the nation the ability to conduct business and make use of their tribal name and offers respect at the state level for their traditions and their culture. It does not exempt them from state laws, nor does it permit the establishment of independent judicial and law enforcement branches by these tribes. Finally, there is "ineligible for federal recognition". This status usually means the Bureau of Indian Affairs has determined that the people claiming to be a tribe have either so diluted their culture. They may have little or no proof of consistent biological lineage from true Indians or can provide no historical documentation that such a tribe ever existed.

This last point has affected many tribes that have had the "misfortune" of never having gone to war against the United States. They may not have experienced having had their lands taken unjustly. They may never have had the dubious distinction of signing a treaty with the federal government. So many treaties were broken in the two centuries of United States interaction with its native population they were once considered worthless. Today, they become valuable tools in a court of law.

The benefit of the "federally recognized" title is shown most clearly by the Mohegan Nation. Although they indicated that they did have a flag when first surveyed in 1994, they warned that it will be changing in the next few years "as soon as we get our (gambling) casino built" (Shirley M. Walsh, Tribal Office Manager, letter dated Nov. 4, 1994).

That iniitial flag, adopted only in 1994 however, was blue bearing the seal of the Mohegan nation in the center (photo provided by Mohegan Tribal Office). That seal was a blue disc, bearing a white wolf. Behind the wolf, in red outline, were shown some mountains, while the paws of the wolf rest upon a couple of tufts of green grass. Circling this disc was a red band bearing in black letters "Mohegan Tribe" at the top and "The Wolf People" at the bottom. The word "mohegan" means "wolf people" in their native tongue. The Mohegan tribe supplied the author with a photo of the flag being presented to Chief Ralph Sturges - G'Tine'mong, Lifetime Chief of the Mohegans and Gladys Tantaquidgeon, tribal medicine woman, or shaman, in June 1994.

Although this flag was relatively new, it served as an interim flag. A new, dramatically different design has been adopted. Gone are both the seal and the blue field!

The new flag is white bearing a royal blue band around the outer edge. In the center is the new tribal seal with the name, "The Mohegan Tribe" arcing over the seal in black letters. Arcing under the new seal is the Mohegan phrase "MUNDU WIGO", a favorite expression of Ms. Fidelia Fielding, one of the last fluent speakers of the Mohegan tongue. "Mundu Wigo" translates into "The Creator is good". ("What Our Symbol Means", unattributed clipping supplied by the Mohegan Tribal HQ, Uncasville, CT).

The new seal is a black circle ringed by a red border. Centered on the black ring is a red dot circled by thirteen smaller white dots. These lie on a black background edged by a white narrow border forming a square. Attached to each side of the square is a roayl blue semicircle, again edged in white. From each corner of the square a diagonal white line aims out toward the edge of the red outer circle. Just prior to touching the red ring, the white line separates and folds back upon itself.

The meaning of the four semicircular domes point to each of the four sacred directions, represent the back of "Grandfather Turtle upon whom the earth was formed " (ibid.) and reflects the shape of the old wigwam dwellings of the Mohegan people. The four diagonal lines are four sacred trees reminding us of the"The Sacred Tree" or the "Tree of Life". They also representa "branching oout towards future generations" (ibid.)

The thirteen white dots recall the thirteen moons in a lunar year, the thirteen sections on a turtle's back and thirteen generation's since Uncas, great leader of the Mohegans (ibid.). Finally the central red dot is the "Sacred Center Circle" of the spiritual life force felt throughout the universe. Thiis entirely new design is based upon an ancient Mohegan motif.

The author thanks the entire tribal council of the Mohegan Nation for permitting me the honor of becoming the only non-Native American to possess a Mohegan flag.

Don Healy, Bisbee, Az 85603