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Connecticut Mohegans hold a belated tribute

Travel to London to honor chief who died in 1736

LONDON -- Queen Elizabeth II joined a group of Connecticut Indians yesterday to pay tribute to a Mohegan chief who traveled to England more than two centuries ago to complain directly to the king about British settlers encroaching on tribal lands.

Three tribesmen in turkey-feather headdresses lit a pipe filled with sweet grass and sage in a traditional burial ceremony for Mahomet Weyonomon, a sachem or leader, who died of smallpox in 1736 while waiting to see King George II. The tribal chief was buried in an unmarked grave in a south London churchyard.

"He didn't have a proper funeral in our tribal tradition," said Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum of Uncasville, Conn. "This is what we want to give him now."

Weyonomon crossed the Atlantic in 1735 with a letter that painted a stark picture of life for a tribe whose land was "reduced to less than 2 miles square out of the large territories for their hunting and planting."

Weyonomon wrote that, without the king's help, his tribe would be "reduced to the miserable necessity of leaving their native lands."

With the failure of his mission, the Mohegans steadily lost ground to what was then the colony of Connecticut. The tribe, which is recognized by the US federal government with a reservation, has about 1,700 members.

Weynomon's letter finally reached the gloved hand of a British monarch during yesterday's memorial ceremony that coincided with the traditional funeral blessing.

Wearing a goose-feather bustle and deerskin leggings, Bozsum knelt before Queen Elizabeth II and gave her a copy of his ancestor's handwritten plea.

The ceremony echoed sentiments of friendship and unity between cultures in the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Anglican leaders asked hundreds packed into Southwark Cathedral to pray for Mohegan chiefs, Britain's royal family, and the leaders of the United States.

"We are here . . . to remember we share with the people of the United States a story which, like all human conduct, is marked by good and bad," said the Very Rev. Colin Slee, the dean of Southwark. "We cannot right past wrongs, but we can remember them and transform them to inspire better conduct throughout humanity now and in years to come."

After the cathedral service, the queen led a procession into the courtyard, where she unveiled a granite sculpture to honor Weyonomon -- a simple rock carved with grooves symbolizing mountain trails.

The Mohegans chanted to slow drum beats and the blare of a conch shell.

"In the name of God, the most pure . . . we thank you for all that you have given us," Bozsum said, first in the tribe's native language, then in English. "We thank you for the Earth that we stand on."

Bozsum presented the queen with a red stone peace pipe. The tribesman turned the pipe in four directions -- north for medicine, south for ancestors, east for new beginning, and west for "where all things end."

The ceremony was aimed at giving the tribe closure, and a place to mark their ancestor's grave.

"Mahomet has his stone now -- and his place in history," Bozsum said.

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