Column: Schaghticoke leader loses home to fire
"Our tribal casino temples are rising higher and grander, but a man with as much native blood as nearly any Connecticut Indian is burned out and homeless in Kent.

Alan Russell, the best known Schaghticoke Indian in northwest Connecticut, was asleep in bed when his house caught fire one night two weeks ago. Russell escaped with his wife, daughter and dogs, but boxes of irreplaceable pictures, letters, documents and tribal artifacts were lost in the blaze, which destroyed the house completely.

"It could have been bad wiring," Russell said when we met at the wreckage, "or people trying to get me out of here. Once I'm gone they can do what they want here."

Of course, this is indefatigable, inscrutable Alan, burned out one minute and the next walking through Kent greeting friends who have rallied around, offering money, clothing, temporary housing, even a guitar.

"I'm not beat, not at all," he told me later. "The sun is shining. I'm here. I think I'll get through it."

The Schaghticokes, with as distinct a history as any Indian tribe in Connecticut, have watched the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots grow wealthy. Meanwhile they have failed to prove to the federal government that they too are a tribe, which includes the all-important right to run a gambling hall.

Who knows what happened that night two weeks ago, but Russell's worries are not off the mark. Simmering disagreements among Schaghticoke descendants — over land, leadership, gambling and ancestry — have occasionally boiled over, sometimes violently. Over the years, secret deals have gone sour and casino dreams have been crushed."

Get the Story:
Rick Green: Caught Between Past, Future (The Hartford Courant 3/11)