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Proposal to rename the Thames River sparks debate among Connecticut tribes

An aerial view of the Thames River in Uncasville, Conn near the Mohegan-Pequot Bridge on October 28, 2022.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
An aerial view of the Thames River in Uncasville, Conn near the Mohegan-Pequot Bridge on October 28, 2022.

A new proposal to rename the Thames River to the Pequot River has sparked debate among Connecticut tribes. While the Mashantucket Pequot and Eastern Pequot tribes are in full support of the proposal, the Mohegan Tribe voiced their concerns.

Mohegan council chairman Charlie Strickland issued a statement to the legislature's Transportation Committee in opposition to the proposed House Bill 5503.

“We understand the intent of this legislation, and appreciate that members of the General Assembly are attempting to correct a perceived historical wrong,” Strickland wrote. “However, the river — which the Mohegan Tribe has historically called the Massapequotuck — runs adjacent to our homeland. It has been the lifeblood of our tribe for centuries”

He said the river has had many names throughout its history including both Mohegan and Pequot. Strickland wants to meet with the Mashantucket Pequot tribe to discuss and agree on a traditional name that is respectful to both tribes.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe has agreed to open a dialogue with the Mohegans, but stand strong in their support of the Pequot name. State lawmakers say that for the bill to move forward the tribes have to agree.

Mashantucket chairman Rodney Butler said that restoring the name to the Pequot River is not about any one tribe, but all of Connecticut's tribes, which are historically related under the Pequot name.

“We were all Pequot, Mohegans were Pequot,” he said. “As well as many other villages that were throughout the region as this was Pequot country. And so the river, no different than the Connecticut river being in Connecticut, symbolized that it was in Pequot country.”

Butler said that 17th century records refer to the river as Pequot before the English renamed it Thames. He said the proposal to restore the name to Pequot is critical to help “recognize history for what it was.”

Maria Lynders is a former news fellow at WSHU.

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