story & photo
by Alexis Ann
“Growing up in Mohegan/Uncasville was really special,” says Mohegan’s first elected chairwoman Lynn Malerba, born one of seven children – five sisters and one brother – to parents Albert and Loretta Roberge. Her mother, Loretta Mae Fielding Roberge, served on the Tribal Council for 30 years and assisted with the Tribe’s petition for Federal Recognition. Married to Paul Malerba, two daughters, Elizabeth ‘84 and Angela ‘86.
Lynn attended kindergarten at the old Mohegan Fire Department, which was later torn down for the Mohegan expansion of Route 2A, the Mohegan Pequot Bridge. “My grandfather was a founding member of the Mohegan Fire Department, as was Courtland Fowler and other Mohegan Tribal members because we all grew up there. First grade was spent at Mohegan School.”
“Growing up at Mohegan was really wonderful because we were immersed in our history and culture. It was an every day event. You grew up with your elders and Tribal members and they were part of your life’s story. I think that’s what makes it very unique and every year at Mohegan we would go up to the Museum and we would see Gladys Tantaquidgeon and she would tour us through the Museum. She always knew which Tribal kids were who. Gladys would make us feel like a celebrity because she would ask us, ‘How’s your father? How’s your mom? How’s your cousin?’ It was really personal. That’s how we got to know leaders of the Tribe and people we revere and remember so fondly as children.”
Chairwoman Lynn knew the last three Mohegan Chiefs, Courtland Fowler, Harold Tantaquidgeon… and Ralph Sturges. “My mother knew a fourth, my great grandfather, Chief Matahga/Burrill Fielding. They are our link to the past. They remember other ancestors, whom we didn’t know and they could tell us stories about them, making us feel as though we did know them. Now, my daughters feel the same way when my mother talks about my great grandfather because those were people they didn’t know but they were lucky enough to find out even more through our elders at the Museum.”
When it came time to pursue her studies beyond high school, Lynn chose Hartford Hospital School of Nursing, “I knew I had to be creative with financing my education past high school. There was scholarship money available in the field of nursing and as a young woman, I was attracted to the profession. It’s a very personal way of interacting with humanity by helping people.”
As a diploma-ed registered nurse, back in the days of white caps, white shoes, and crank beds. Lynn recalled, “Pantsuits didn’t come onto the scene until my senior year and no one wore scrubs or sneakers. You’d better believe you’d better have your white shoes polished.”
Lynn continued her studies at St. Joseph’s College. “I knew that if I didn’t get my Bachelor of Science in Nursing, I wouldn’t be able to progress in the field.”
“My original goal was to be an advanced practice R.N. and do primary care though I ended up doing nothing close to that. I ended up falling in love with coronary care and critical care. I’m a very impatient person. I could never do rehab nursing. I want results right away.”
Lynn’s nursing career includes working at Hartford Hospital for two years and Lawrence & Memorial for 21 years. She was promoted through the ranks at L&M. From a nurse manager for nine years to Director of Cardiology and Pulmonary Services, she wore several hats, including, overseeing the Coronary Care Unit, Intensive Care Unit, Cardiac Step Down Unit, Respiratory Floor, EKG Department, Cardiac Cath Lab, Cardiac Rehab Unit, Respiratory Therapy Pulmonary Lab and the evening and night supervisors. As a hospital administrator, Lynn says, “It was a very interesting position to be in because you could really influence policy at a higher level.”
Lynn earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration at University of Connecticut, 2008.
Working for the Tribe
In the late 90s, Lynn’s goals changed and her dream was to become Vice President of Patient Care Services. Around the same time, in 1996, when Mohegan Sun Casino opened, Lynn said, “Tribal Council decided that it was time to open its own Health and Human Services Department and the position of Director of Health and Human Services was posted.”
Of course, Lynn was the right person for the job but her dream job also came open at the hospital! She struggled with her decision and says, “I made my decision with my heart instead of my head.”
“I told myself, if I truly want to benefit the Tribe, then, I should be here working for the Tribe. So, I left the hospital and came here.” Lynn describes her return to the Tribe as “A wonderful opportunity.”
The Council’s priorities were set: First goal was the preservation of cultural assets, which included the repurchasing of burial grounds, Tribal Church renovations, and Museum renovations. Second, was education of the children and third, was to develop programs that were value-added services back to Tribal membership.
Lynn makes an analogy of Tribal gaming to Governmental Gaming. “When you think about the casino, you can think about it just as governmental gaming is to the lottery, providing services to the citizens of the State of Connecticut. The casino was intended, by Council, to provide value added services to Tribal citizens.” Lynn points out that the Council acts as the board of directors for its casino enterprise.
First Tribal Job
“I developed a health care program and made sure that every Tribal member had health coverage. If they didn’t have the funding, we would provide insurance for them.” There were many departments in this program, that Lynn developed including: Youth Services, Elders Services, Social Services, Behavioral Health Services. “We believe that any way we could strengthen the family unit would be beneficial to the Tribe, as a whole.” Lynn took charge in designing these programs to meet the needs of Tribal membership.
In 2005, Lynn decided that it was time for another challenge so she ran for Tribal Council. “My mother was no longer on Council because if she was, I never would have run against her. We should always respect what has come before and maybe carry the tradition on.” Her peers appointed Lynn vice chair. “Being on the Council is fun because there are so many different hats that you wear.”
“You are the face of the Tribe for intergovernmental matters whether it’s state, local, intertribal, or federal. You are able to participate and influence policy according to what your Tribe’s needs and wishes are. This is the role that Tribal Councils have had since time-and-memorial. This is very important.”
“The other hat you wear is that of a governmental leader. You need to be responsive to your constituents and your tribal citizens and you need to understand what their wishes are because we’re a representative form of government. It’s not about me, Lynn Malerba. It’s about the wishes of the Tribe and these are found out formally and informally. We are ALL related and no one is shy about letting you know what they think. And, that’s a good thing. There are 1800 people in our Tribe with 1100+ voters. Even though it has grown, it’s still a very small community.”
“No two days are the same,” states Lynn, “and that’s what’s wonderful about the role of Chairwoman,” as she likes to be called, not chair or chairperson.
Lynn represented the Mohegan Tribe at the White House last November for a national consultation with one leader from each 556 Tribes across the country. “So, I was upfront and personal with President Obama. How happy was I?”
Women have always had a very strong role in leadership across Tribes. “Even though I am the first elected chairwoman, women have always been leaders in the Tribe. I think I’m just carrying on the more informal tradition, formally. The women used to get together in the Ladies Sewing Society, where the women pretty much decided to tell the men how to run their business. We always had our Medicine Women. Emma Baker was one of our Medicine Women who petitioned the State of Connecticut to try to halt the Masonic Temple from being built on our burial grounds in Norwich.”
“The economy is the most challenging, right now, but I think that it’s s-l-o-w-l-y turning around. I also think that it’s less of a challenge and more of an opportunity to really try to strategically plan for the long-term. What do we want this property to be? What’s the legacy that we want to leave behind for the next generation? How do we accomplish this? What do we want our grandchildren to look back on and say, ‘Gee, that was a great idea… isn’t it wonderful that They did that?’ For us, we look back at the Tribal Council who kept this government running using the membership dues that we had to pay – It was for the LOVE of the Tribe, love of tradition, love of the culture.”
Goals as Chairwoman
“To pay down debt and to smooth out our portfolio. We know now that casinos are not recession-proof so let’s try to balance that out. There were some good things that happened last year. Our business did not experience a layoff and we worked very hard at this. We recognize that whatever decision we make, it has a ripple effect, not only in our community, but also statewide because our 8,000 employees all live in Connecticut. They spend their income in Connecticut. It would have a negative impact in the local economy if we laid off a large number of people.”
Lynn explains that the Tribe supports another 2,000 businesses in the State of Connecticut through all the goods and services that they purchase. “If we downsized our business, what impact would that have? We’re very proud of the fact that we were able to navigate our way through. And, while doing so, we gained more efficiency. We’ll all be a little smarter on the other end, when we come out of this recession. We were a very young business in the growth mode always. It was time to take a breath… time to take a step back.”