Malerba elected Mohegan chief for life

Mohegan - As chief, her Mohegan name, "Mutawi Mutahash," translates as "Many Hearts," a more than suitable sobriquet for a former critical-care nurse who will have to minister to the needs of an 1,800-member Indian tribe.

Lynn Malerba, the Mohegan Tribal Council chairwoman elected chief for life by the tribe's Council of Elders, spoke at a press conference Thursday in Mohegan Congregational Church, vowing to lead as "the public face of the tribe."

Malerba will be installed as chief Aug. 15 during homecoming ceremonies at Fort Shantok, the tribe's ancestral land in Uncasville.

"With humility and great happiness, I accept this appointment as chief," said Malerba, standing behind a lectern. "It's a great responsibility and a great honor."

Members of the tribal and elders councils occupied chairs on either side of the church as Malerba and Robert Soper Sr., chairman of the elders council, spoke. The audience included Mohegan Sun executives and other tribal members.

"Every life-changing decision is difficult to make," said Malerba, who had to choose between accepting the appointment, which she did not seek, or remaining on the council. "I was overwhelmed by (elders) council's decision. I was taken aback. … But we have a stable and established tribal council which is very experienced. … I hope they'll still ask my opinion once in a while - and I have a lot of them."

The council chair's salary typically exceeds $250,000 a year, according to reports filed by the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which operates Mohegan Sun. The council serves as the authority's management board.

Malerba declined to discuss the chief's compensation, saying it was private.

When Malerba leaves the council in August, Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum, the council vice chairman, will serve as interim chairman. The tribe will conduct a special election of the membership to fill Malerba's seat on the council. The nine council members will then elect a new chairman.

Malerba will succeed Ralph Sturges, who served as Mohegan chief from 1992 until his death in October 2007. She is the great-granddaughter of Burrill Fielding, who served as chief from 1937 to 1952, and the daughter of Loretta Roberge, a venerated tribal member and former councilor who attended Thursday's press conference.

Soper said the elders council waited to name a chief out of respect for Sturges and had then asked tribal members to nominate candidates. He said a number of men and women were considered.

"It was a long, slow process," he said. "We worked on it for about a year."

In 1996, a change in the Mohegan constitution empowered the elders council to appoint the chief, Soper said, and ultimately all seven members of the council supported Malerba. Previously, chiefs were elected by the tribal membership.

Anne Uncas served as interim chief in 1723, the only woman to hold the position prior to Malerba's appointment.

Mitchell Etess, chief executive officer of the Mohegan gaming authority, said Malerba's appointment as chief should be seen as a sign of the tribe's stability.

"This reminds us it's not all about the slot reports, the Black Eyed Peas and the basketball team," he said. "What this is all about is a tribe."

Etess said the gaming authority's lenders should not be concerned by the impending change in the tribal council's leadership.

"Quite the contrary," he said. "This council has depth and experience. If I'm in the financial community and I know Lynn is now the lifetime leader of the tribe I'd think it was a very positive sign."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

MOHEGAN CHIEFS SINCE 1902

• Henry Mathews (1902-03)

• Lemuel Fielding (1903-28)

• Everett Fielding (1929-35)

• Julian Harris (1935-37)

• Burrill Fielding (1937-52)

• Harold A. Tantaquidgeon (1952-70)

• Courtland Fowler (1970-91)

• Ralph Sturges (1992-2007)

• Lynn Malerba (2010- )

Source: Mohegan Tribe

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