Wampanoag casino foes fed ammunition
By George Brennan
also by Stephanie Vosk
July 18, 2009
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has no historical ties to land in Middleboro, an essential part of their bid to build an Indian casino, according to a report commissioned by a neighboring town.
The report, compiled by Connecticut-based historian James Lynch and paid for by the town of Halifax, concludes that the Mashpee tribe "has never maintained a tribal political or social presence within the Town of Middleboro."
In its submission to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe claims it has a direct connection to Middleboro because it descends from the Pokanoket people - later known as Wampanoag - who occupied the area in the 1600s. Based on these assertions by the tribe, James Lynch reached several conclusions, including that:
There were differences in dialect between the mainland Indians of southeastern Massachusetts and those on the Cape and Islands.
Prior to European settlement, all the tribes in southeastern Massachusetts generally shared significant cultural traits, due mainly to their setting, not their connection.
Mashpee came into existence because its members no longer shared the common cultural ideology with other tribes in the region. It was a unique community based upon Christian ideals.
Intermarriages with the Indians of the Middleboro area are not indicative of a historical, political, or cultural connection, as the tribe has claimed.
The particular Middleboro lands the tribe seeks belonged to the Massachuset tribe, not the Pokanoket or Wampanoag.
The Mashpee tribe has never asserted political authority over any residents in Middleboro with Indian ancestry or maintained a political or social presence in that town.
Lynch's work rebuts a report done for the tribe by Christine Grabowski, a New York-based consultant, that links the tribe to Middleboro based on ties to the Pokanoket tribe and modern links like the tribe's use of Betty's Neck in Lakeville as a spiritual sanctuary.
"They do not have any historical or cultural connections to the town of Middleboro and neither were they historically under the control of the Pokanoket Indians," said Lynch, who has investigated Indian land claims across the country for surrounding towns and homeowners, including in his home state.
In a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal agency considering the Mashpee tribe's application to put 539 acres in Middleboro into federal trust for gaming, Halifax selectmen urge the BIA to reject the application based on Lynch's research.
"They don't have a historic right to that land," John Bruno, chairman of the Halifax board, said in a phone interview yesterday.
Tribe leaders did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.
Grabowski could not be reached, but last year defended her research. "This isn't about Mashpee needing to establish an exclusive right to the land in Middleboro," she said at that time. "It's about establishing a historical and a cultural connection."
Anti-casino advocates in Middleboro have long claimed the Wampanoag ties to the town are bogus, accusing the tribe's investors of reservation shopping.
Rich Young, president of Casinofacts, said the tribe's former leader Shawn Hendricks admitted as much on a radio show. "He said it was location, location, location," Young said of Hendricks. "He never mentioned anything about historic ties to the land."
In 2008, the BIA clearly defined a tribe's need to document historic ties through treaties or the existence of "villages, burial grounds, occupancy or subsistence use in the vicinity of the land."
The Mashpee tribe can't make those links based on Lynch's research, Bruno said.
Halifax decided to hire Lynch after the BIA held a hearing in Middleboro in March of 2008. During that hearing, several other tribes made claims to the Middleboro land, including the Massachuset and the Pokanoket.
Lynch concludes in his report that the land on Precinct Street belonged historically to the Massachuset tribe, which is not federally recognized.
A BIA spokesman could not comment on what weight the new report would be given but said it would become part of the application record.
This report comes as the Mashpee tribe is already facing a significant hurdle to its application to put 539 acres of land into trust in Middleboro, as well as 140 acres in Mashpee. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued in February no longer gives the U.S. Department of the Interior the authority to take land into trust for tribes recognized after 1934, the year the Indian Reorganization Act went into effect, though Congressional leaders are considering possibly amending the law.
Halifax's concerns go beyond the historical ties to the environmental impact and traffic a casino would create, Bruno said.
"We think there are tremendous impacts that will spill over from any development in that area that haven't been taken into consideration," he said.
Young applauded the efforts of Halifax to fight the casino. "I appreciate the town of Halifax going to bat to protect their community and to protect my community," he said.
EDITORIAL FOOTNOTE: Please check out www.feathernews.blogspot.com. That is Ken Davison's website. He has an interesting article on the $330 Million that the Mohegan Tribal Council just borrowed to pay an outstanding debt.
The debt started in 1999 as an estimated $300 million that was to be paid back for phase two of the Mohegan Tribe project (the hotel and Sky Casino in the Mohegan Sun Casino).
Read the article, the Tribal Council had promised to pay the debt down quickly, instead they never did. Now the $300 million will cost the Mohegan Tribe about $340 million plus.
This is one reason, the Tribal Council members who are running for re-election (Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum, Lynn Malerba, Bill Quidgeon and James Gessner) should not be re-elected. They have failed us. They need to go.
Ken Davison, from reading the article, definitely knows what to do. He is an accountant and has good business sense. We need change. Re-elect Mark Hamilton. Elect Ken Davison, Mark Sperry, and John Henry Clark.
We need more than one new person, we need several. One new person, will not change anything. The Tribal Council will still do what they want. Your vote this election can and will make a difference. What do you think?