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The Mashantucket Pequot tribe of Connecticut were nearly penniless just a couple of decades ago. Today, they are the richest tribe in America and owners of the world's largest gambling casino. And, writes Jeff Benedict, their wealth is based on a fraud. Without Reservation will remind some readers of A Civil Action, by Jonathan Harr, for its novelistic approach to nonfiction as well as its earnestness. Benedict says that Congress was essentially tricked into granting tribal status to the group--a political process that allowed it to skirt the much more stringent recognition standards maintained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Benedict's reporting is provocative, showing, for instance, that Skip Hayward, the man who headed the tribe for many years, listed his race as "white" on the application for his first marriage license. And Benedict's narrative is character driven almost to a fault, though it makes reading about congressional hearings and backdoor politics enjoyable.
There is convincing evidence on these pages that pols were duped by Hayward, first in Connecticut and then in Washington. The evidence is strong enough, in fact, to warrant formal congressional hearings on the decisions made in the 1980s to confer official status on the tribe, and perhaps even revoke that status or redirect some casino profits to poor Indians. In short, Without Reservation is the kind of book that can kick-start a controversy--or at least amplify an existing one to the point where the need for reform becomes urgent. If the book has a weakness, it's that Benedict didn't get to interview many tribal officials. But then it's easy to see why they might avoid a man with so many hard questions. This book needed to be written, even without their cooperation. --John J. Miller [via]