October Chairman’s Message

Greetings Tribal Family,

We’ve been through it all. Over 40 years ago we started our formal petition for Federal Recognition. Long before there was even a thought of Indian Gaming. We did it for the very simple reason that we wanted to protect this land that we call our home, preserve our heritage and culture and continue to exercise our aboriginal rights to hunt and fish responsibly on these lands. Since then we’ve watched our homeland become overcrowded with construction as we continued our fight decade after decade to recapture our ability to protect this land with land in trust.

It’s been a drawn out battle that’s gone on longer than our elders and ancestors who delivered those papers to Washington DC back in the 1970s could have imagined. It’s been an exhaustive process with a few ups and many downs that have tested our resolve and our resources. This latest setback challenging our land in trust has once again stretched our resources out and forced us to make some hard choices. But let me be very clear, our fight for this land and our way of life is not something that we will ever compromise or give up fighting for.

What we have decided to do is look for ways to trim our budget and become more creative and thoughtful with our operations. It’s our goal to find cost savings where ever appropriate and to do so with as little impact to the programs and services that are so vital to the education of our youth, the structure of our growing families and the health of our elders.

To accomplish this, I appointed several Tribal members to a Sustainability Working Group back in August to review each department, program and budget line by line to find savings. Since then, this dedicated group has been pouring through our income and expenses and will be providing Tribal Council with a list of recommendations. Again, we’re doing all this while maintaining our commitment to protect our land in trust and minimize any disruption to the programs and services we all rely on.

Initial feedback that I’ve received from the Sustainability Working Group has been surprisingly positive. They’ve been able to find additional grant funds that were not being utilized to the best of their ability and opportunities to streamline our operations. It’s a process we should have conducted sooner and will certainly look to implement every few years going forward. It’s a healthy process for a government to review its operations on a regular basis.

With all that said, there’s no question that these are challenging times. But let me remind you that we are a strong, creative and smart people that have persevered through far more difficult circumstances. I’m confident that we will succeed in the end. We will have a prosperous future; rich with culture and economic development opportunities, including our world-class destination resort casino First Light.

I also ask you, the citizens of our great Tribe, what can you do to help? Are there areas where you can donate your time, treasure or talent back to your people? We are open to any and all ideas that you may have for improving the work we do within our community and in our Community and Government Center. We are stronger together and together there is nothing that we cannot achieve… we are Wampanoag Strong.

 

September’s Chairman’s Message

Greetings Tribal Family,

I originally wrote this as an op-ed that I submitted to several newspapers after the horrific events in Charlottesville. It’s an important message that needs to be spread and I wanted to share it with my people as well. As the Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, that first welcomed the Pilgrims to America with an open hand of friendship in the Plymouth colony in 1620, I was horrified by the images of hate and terror that came out of Charlottesville, Virginia last week and am deeply disturbed by the divisiveness that has become our national identity. For nearly 400 years, my people have experienced the oppression and hateful vitriol we are seeing on full display in 2017 by white nationalists and so-called American Nazis whose mission is to take back “their country” by force and send the rest of us back to whence we came. But this is OUR country. It belongs to Native Americans and it belongs to our friends and partners of all nationalities, races, and religions, who believe in the ideal of America and what it stands for. The waving of Nazi flags is an insult to us all, and to those who have fought for and shed blood for our collective freedom, including our 96-year-old Chief Vernon “Silent Drum” Lopez. Chief Lopez was among the 156,000 Allied soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944; his military service part of a long line of Wampanoag warriors who have fought on behalf of America in every major U.S. conflict going back to theRevolutionary War. Of course, the D-Day invasion not only marked a turning point in the eventual defeat and unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, it was a watershed event in world history in which a diverse, multi-cultural alliance began to turn the tide against the dangerous ideology that there existed a single, pure, “master race” destined to rule the world.

My people are all too familiar with what we now bear witness to in Charlottesville and what we see even in our own backyard in Massachusetts where Swastikas and other symbols of denigration are too often found. Hundreds of years before terrorists were posting beheadings on social media, our Squaw Sachem Weetametoo’s decapitated head was paraded around the village of Taunton on the end of a pole as a symbol of racial terror.

Today, we stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters, our brothers and sisters in the African-American, Arab, Asian, Hispanic communities and all those who have been targeted and victimized simply because they may look different or that they pray to a different God. It is time for us all to understand that is these differences that make us stronger as Americans.

Our struggle continues on the front lines in the multi-generational fight for equality and in the courts where our Tribe and other disenfranchised groups still face an historic battle for sovereignty and respect. And yet, as descendants of the first people to inhabit this great land 12,000 years ago, we once again extend an open hand of friendship to the newest waves of immigrants and all those who are committed to the true American ideal, an ideal that celebrates diversity, tolerance and understanding. This is OUR America.

Kutâputunumuw

 

Chairman’s Message – August Nashauonk Mittark

Greetings Tribal Family,

It’s been almost two years since our land was taken into trust. However, our work to forever protect our ancestral homeland and our way of life continues. It continues as we work with the Department of Interior (DOI) to further define our existence as a strong, vibrant tribe with historic ties that date back to the first Europeans that made this land their home too. It continues as we appeal a case that has challenged the DOI’s ability to hold our land in trust under category 2. It continues as we explore other alternatives to protect our land.

I’m confident that we’ll be successful in our bid to secure our land in trust. We have a strong history that dates back well beyond 1934. It’s a fact that cannot be changed and why I’m confident we will be on the right side of history when everything is said and done. There’s no questions that we’ve got a lot of work to get through over the next few months, but we’ve got a great team that’s willing to work right by my side grinding the midnight oil to ensure the Department of Interior receives the supplemental material they’ve requested.

While I’m confident that we’ll be successful in this fight, it’s this continuous struggle and the impact it’s having on our community that concerns me right now. I know how much anxiety this process can cause and how it can weigh on each and every tribal citizen. I know that we take it personally each time a new group or legal definition questions our status. It hurts. The seemingly endless list of obstacles and moving goals can be exhausting. I worry about you, my tribal family, and how the anxiety is affecting us as whole.

I’m worried that the anxiety we all carry inside of us will have a very real impact on our community for years to come…long after these legal appeals and document submissions are completed. It’s why I urge you to talk with our traditional leaders about any anxiety you hold onto and try to remember that our culture and faith is something that can never be taken – we were Wampanoag yesterday, we’re Wampanoag today and we’ll be Wampanoag tomorrow.

Many tribal members have talked to me about how this process and the uncertainty has weighed on them. I feel it too. However, we should all know that our future remains bright.

Let’s remember that we’ve got an amazing group of young men and women that will ensure our Tribal Nation continues to thrive and grow for generations to come. In fact, as I sit at my desk writing this month’s column I can hear our tribal youth at summer Turtle Camp and Preserve Our Homeland Camp learning our culture and language and developing a strong identity. It’s a beautiful sound and I’m so grateful that the Creator has blessed us with such amazing children. These kids are bright, energetic and proof that Mashpee will Shine.

 

 

Southcoast Today ~ Our View: Tribe should not be denied land in trust

Good day Tribal Family and Friends,

I am sharing with you an editorial published on July 18, 2017 by Southcoast Today news outlet. I find it balanced and inclusive of historical foundation that many in the general public are not completely aware of.

Feel free to share this write up, we certainly applaud Southcoast Today for going a step further than most in taking their position.

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Posted Jul 18, 2017 at 2:01 AM

The Department of the Interior has suggested a path for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe to work toward developing a casino on land in East Taunton across Route 140 from the Silver City Galleria, where a couple dozen residents stand in vehement opposition to the proposal.

James E. Cason, associate deputy secretary of the department, has asked for representatives on both sides to consider whether the tribe was recognized by the federal government in 1934, the threshold for taking land in trust for tribes under the Indian Reorganization Act.

Mr. Cason believes there may be an opportunity to recognize the tribe’s relationship with the government of Massachusetts at that time as a proxy for federal recognition.

Before the United States existed, the tribe had been under the jurisdiction of the British Crown after King Philip’s War in the late 1600s. The colonists put the losers onto reservation, and social disruption and disease as a result of proximity with colonists reduced their numbers and voices. Colonial growth and expansion made it easier to ignore the duty to protect Mashpee people and property. This amounts to a dereliction of duty to protect the tribe.

The de facto anti-Indian policies (takings and subdivisions of land, forced conversion to Christianity, removing children from families) ate away at the cohesion and cultural identity of the tribe. The Department of Interior validated the Mashpee identity with its 2007 recognition. That decision appears to be incongruent with any eventual rejection of the tribe’s effort to take land in trust.

East Taunton residents have right to resist, but the tribe’s land purchase was a zoned and designated industrial area. Within a very small radius are such other neighbors as a school, a new, large church, an expansive furniture warehouse, one of Taunton’s largest building construction contractors, and a number of other industrial firms. The commonwealth’s compact and the city’s community agreement with the tribe are intended to take all those neighbors into consideration. A casino may be an effective tool for economic development for the tribe, and those agreements are intended to ensure that it is effective for Taunton — and East Taunton — as well.

However, no one can predict whether that would be the outcome, so the litigating neighbors are understandably fraught with uncertainty and fear, but the centuries of interaction between indigenous peoples and immigrants in Massachusetts have too frequently found the tribes on the losing end.

In last week’s congressional hearing to discuss options for repairing the language of the reorganization act, the chief of Maine’s Penobscot Nation testified that clarifying the laws is about far more than a casino.

“Tribes’ ability to regain their homelands is not only critical for them to be able to overcome economic disparity, education outcome disparities, housing disparities … but it’s also at the very core of cultural identity,” he said.

If Congress is able to provide a prescription for the incongruities of the reorganization act, we would be pleased to see the Mashpee’s land-into-trust affirmed. And despite our opinion that casino gambling’s promises are far from a sure thing, we support the Mashpee Wampanoag right to use their land as they choose.

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Important Update: Sec of Interior Extends and Expands Category 1, Invites further proof from Tribe!

Good evening Tribal Family,

I want to provide an important update…This evening I received a letter announcing the U.S. Department of Interior decision to expand and extend the process, inviting us to submit further materials demonstrating how our tribal history supports our right to trust land
The letter affirms that our land remains in trust until this process is complete.

Because the DOI has not concluded its process, no decision is appropriate at this time, and none has been issued.

Previously, the Department  had committed to completing its review and announcing the decision by June 27.

As of that date earlier this week, Interior officials were not persuaded there was an adequate basis to reach a final positive decision.

As a result, we opted then to suspend review.

The DOI has now invited us to address other grounds for a positive finding.
The land will remain in  trust.
The district court’s finding in the lawsuit is still under appeal.

We are now working several tracks to preserve our land base. The DOI announcement specifically identifies other avenues to pursue

Because we succeeded in the federal recognition process, the Department is familiar with our unique history. They have suggested that we supplement on at least one aspect of our history prior to 1934.

They have suggested that we continue to work with them to protect our lands

I look forward to being with everyone this weekend.

Here’s to Good Medicine and Strong Traditions!

Happy Powwow My Family!!

Kutâputunumuw!

Good day Tribal Family,

We received notification today from the Department of Interior that they will issue a decision regarding our Category 1 Land Into Trust, on or before June 27.

Once we have received a decision, I will immediately call for a General Membership meeting.

I ask everyone to continue the strong flow of healthy and positive Medicine.

We cannot succumb to viciousness of any sort.

We are Mashpee Wampanoag, Proud and Extremely Strong!

Kutâputunumuw!

“The Right Side Of History…”

Greetings Tribal Family,

His remains were scattered far and wide. But, on May 13, in Warren, Rhode Island, we laid to rest – for the second and final time– one of the most important figures in our Tribe’s history. 8sâmeeqan (pronounced oosa-meekkwan), as you know was a Wampanoag Massasoit who signed the first treaty with the Puritan Pilgrims. He was a Supreme Sachem for the 69 tribes that made up the Wampanoag Nation when the Mayflower first dropped anchor off the coast of Provincetown before landing on Plymouth Rock. For thousands of years before that, our ancestors lived on and ruled the land that stretched from Gloucester Bay across southeastern Massachusetts to Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. As our Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Director Ramona Peters said,”8sâmeeqan stood at the historical crossroad between the indigenous people of this land and the origins of what would eventually become the United States of America.” In the 17th century, when our ancestors first encountered the early settlers, 8sâ- meeqan had a vision of how we could all live together. That vision helped to ensure 50 years of peace between the English and Wampanoag — until he died in 1665, ten years before the King’s Phillips War. Fast forward to 1851. 8sâmeeqan’s grave on Burrs Hill overlooking Narragansett Bay was unearthed by railroad construction, looted and treated like a sideshow instead of a sacred burial site of human remains that deserved the same respect and decency afforded to Europeans.

Thankfully we’ve had a long line of strong, forward thinking leaders that followed our Massasoit 8sâmeeqan. Several of our tribal leaders, both past and present, had a hand in drafting NAGPRA, a federal law enacted in 1990 that requires museums to return the remains so they can be re-interred in their original burial sites. Over the past two decades, the Wampanoag Repatriation Confederation – made up of tribal members representing the Mashpee, Aquinnah, and Assonet Wampanoag – have been engaged in painstaking historical detective work. They managed to recoup the remains from seven museums across the country and re-acquire the grave contents of 42 burials and 658 funerary objects removed from the burial ground at the edge of 8sâmeeqan’s village of Sowams, now known as the Town of Warren. I share this history with you because it’s a microcosm of the struggle we face today. Over the past 400 years, colonization almost wiped us out. We who remain have been nearly squeezed off our land. But, ever since our Tribe was granted federal acknowledgement in 2007, the tide has begun to turn. In September of 2015, the U.S. Department of the Interior declared 150 acres in Mashpee and 170 acres in Taunton as our initial reservation land. The process of repatriation for 8sâmeeqan’s ancestors had begun. We started construction on our First Light Resort & Casino to uplift our people — a path forward for our people to become economically self-sufficient so that we can reach a place where we no longer rely on government assistance to sustain our tribal government. This forward movement was halted by a lawsuit filed by a group of antiIndian activists, initially funded by an outof-state competing casino developer. Our history, sovereignty, and self-sufficiency has been treated with the same looters mentality that scattered the remains of 8sâmeeqan by this small group of plaintiffs. But, in the next few weeks, we will get word from the Interior Department on a revised Record-of-Decision. We have submitted reams of evidence to prove what we already know: our Tribe more than meets the criteria the DOI needs to issue a positive finding. Let’s stand together as one nation and prepare to embrace the future our Creator has in store for us. There’s no doubt we are on the right side of history and because of that, I believe truth and justice will prevail for our people, despite our enemies best efforts to keep us from claiming what is rightfully ours.

Kutâputunumuw;

Cedric Cromwell Qaqeemasq (Running Bear)

Important Update from Chairman Cromwell: Department of Interior to issue decision on or before June 19!

Dear Tribal Family

Late last week the  U.S. Interior Department informed Tribal leadership that a new decision on the historic tribe’s land status is expected to be announced soon.

More specifically, the Interior Department said it would issue a new decision on or before June 19, 2017!!

We are confident that a new ROD (Record-Of-Decision) from the Interior Department will reaffirm what has already been well-established and documented: we have lived on this land for thousands of years and it is only right that we remain!

As you recall, on September 18, 2015, the initial ROD that re-established our reservation land was issued by the Interior Department under what is known as “Category 2” of the Indian Reorganization Act — living continuously on an existing reservation.

Shortly after that decision, a group of anti-Indian activists in East Taunton filed a suit challenging the Interior Department’s authority to hold land in trust under Category 2. Although a federal district court Judge William Young ruled in favor of the plaintiffs last summer, the same judge later ruled that the DOI could revise the initial ROD under Category 1, which establishes that the tribe was under federal jurisdiction before 1934, the year the Indian Reorganization Act was enacted.

Frankly for the Department of Interior to turn this around so quickly is remarkable. Of course, we hope it’s sooner rather than later, but this gives us certainty there will be a decision very soon.

The decision this week by the U.S. Justice Department to withdraw from a Category 2 appeal makes sense in light of the pending Interior Department decision, which will supersede the lawsuit filed against the Interior Department last year. However, we understood that the DOJ decision to withdraw under Category 2 was a possibility and for that reason, intervened to assert the Tribe’s interest in the appeal.

It’s unfortunate that anti-Indian activists have created a legal side show in attempt to deprive us of our sovereign right to sustain our culture and government, and to develop First Light Resort & Casino as a means of economic uplift for our people and the City of Taunton.

We’ve been challenged every step of the way, and each step we have prevailed!

Kutâputunumuw!

Chairman’s Message as shared in April 2017 Nashauonk Mittark Newsletter

Greetings Tribal Family,

We are a strong, united nation that’s achieved so much over the past few years and we have amazing opportunities on the horizon. I can see it…Mashpee is shining bright. We have a great team of dedicated staff in our Community and Government Center working hard to provide services to our nation and they’re doing a wonderful job. We also have a Tribal Council that’s energized and committed to tackling some of our most pressing needs and achieving real success. This is where we draw our strength – our unity – and it’s why Mashpee is respected at home and across this great country.

I can say this because I’ve spent a good amount of time on the road over the past few weeks and listened to how politicians, business leaders and tribal heads respond when our Tribe enters the room. Just recently I was able to spend some time in Washington D.C. making sure our voice is heard, in Las Vegas at RES 2017 Economic Business and Development Summit gauging the current economic climate in Indian Country and right here at home working with Council and our amazing team on issues, like substance abuse, that need immediate attention.  It’s been a busy month, but progress doesn’t sleep.

Let’s talk for a minute about economic development in Indian Country, because we have real opportunities in both the short and long-term that we need to explore. I’m so glad that I took the time to attend the RES 2017 Economic Business and Development Summit last month. It proved to be a resourceful and competent conference.

Tribes like the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota are developing tribally chartered corporations that manage a diverse portfolio of tribally owned businesses – taking advantage of tax incentives, federal programs, grant opportunities and reservation lands. These corporations are getting into everything from agriculture and financing to government services and information technology. They’re also enjoying an immense amount of success in the federal governments 8A program.

As your Tribal Chairman, I have a goal of inspiring, researching and bringing back economic development, jobs and forward advancement for a strong Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal economy. So how do we do this? It’s a lot easier said than done, but we’ve already started down the road with the development of a strong foundation to guide this engine with our Planning and Development Department and the formation of our Community Development Corporation (CDC). With the foundation set, we can now look at identifying viable business opportunities that are right for our market and developing a strategic plan to manage our growth.  Everything must be in-line with a forward thinking mind-set with a “can do” effortless approach.

I also spent a good amount of time in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago. It’s important that we take the time to meet with the new administration and reconnect with elected officials to discuss the issues close to our heart. I also had the pleasure of meeting with the newly appointed U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.  He has a strong record of being pro-sovereignty and someone who has made it a priority to protect the land. I’m certainly optimistic that Interior Secretary Zinke will do right by our tribe.

For me, it was important that this administration heard right from me about the positive economic impact our projects, like First Light Resort and Casino, will have on the region. Tribes are pouring billions and billions of dollars into the U.S. All of these investments we’re creating – from resort casinos to business enterprises – are feeding the larger economy with jobs and revenue. That’s the story that needed to be told, and I’m glad to say this administration understood it and that it aligns nicely with their goals.

With everything going on at the federal and state level, we can’t forget about our local elections. The town of Mashpee will be holding its annual election on May 16. I strongly encourage Mashpee residents to gather info on all the candidates running, from Selectman to School Committee. These local elections have a profound impact on our Tribe and I ask you to exercise your right to vote…our power is in our unity. I also want to thank Brian Weeden for stepping up to run for School Committee. Brian has evolved into a certain leader of our future and has dedicated much of his energy toward building our Youth Council members’ leadership skills here at home and on a National level. Brian will be a great addition to the school committee, but needs your support. Please make sure your voice is heard.

Like I said earlier, it’s been a busy couple of weeks, but progress doesn’t sleep. We’ve got a strong team and I promise to keep our nation moving forward today and tomorrow.

Tribal Council Moves to Combat Opioid Crisis with Heightened Urgency!

Dear Tribal Family,

As we mourn the tragic death-by-overdose of two more Tribal Citizens over the past two weeks, I am writing you, not only to give voice to our profound collective grief, but also as a call to action.

Grief must be given its place. However, we cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed in the face of tragedy. That is why I convened a special meeting on Tuesday that included the entire Tribal Council, our Tribal Coordinating Committee (TCC), top administrators with Indian Health Services, our Medicine Man as well as various Tribal department Directors and community members with background in treatment and recovery.

We had a candid discussion about what services we are currently providing. We examined a range of complicated and difficult truths – from how we can improve our recovery programs to ramping up our efforts when it comes to intervention and prevention. Our community has been disproportionately impacted by this scourge. We have lost far too many people to the disease of addiction.

As a result of our very productive meeting, several things became abundantly clear. Not only do we need to expand our efforts to inform and educate Tribal citizens of the many addiction prevention services and programs we already have in place, we also need to re-allocate resources and sharpen our focus on what else needs to be done.

I am happy to report that on Tuesday, Tribal Council took action on a number of important initiatives.

When it comes to recovery, addiction doesn’t go away after a few days in treatment. It is a life-long disease that must be managed. We also recognize that accessing long-term treatment facilities is difficult, and at times, impossible to find. That’s why we unanimously voted to move forward to create a plan to have our own transitional “half-way” houses – one for men and one for women; a safe, sober place they can go after treatment where those of us struggling to overcome this disease can be surrounded by support.

We will bolster our staffing to include a “Human Services Case Manager” who will handle all aspects of a crisis, including crisis’ that occur that are “non-ICWA” by nature in order to encompass the array of complex situations that occur. This individual will be assigned to the opioid crisis as lead intervention manager.

We also realized the need for a dedicated “Hot-Line” phone number for people to call in emergency situations, which is why we voted to establish a crisis hotline for Tribal Citizens – whether that be someone struggling with addiction or a family member or friend dealing with someone experiencing a drug or alcohol-induced crisis. Additionally we approved a motion that designates 3 individuals to be on-call 24 hours a day to assist in the emergency situations.

Also, Tribal Council has unanimously voted to establish a “Tribal Intervention/Crisis Response Team” to address alcohol and substance abuse. Tribal members who are interested in serving on this team, will be appointed by Tribal Council.

I am also well aware that our focus must not only be on treatment and recovery services but also on prevention to ensure that our Tribal youth have the tools and support they need to help them avoid getting ensnared in what can only be described as a death-trap.

Our teams will be coordinating a Community Forum in the near future to educate our Tribal citizens on the services available specific to this epidemic and how we will continue to face this crisis in a unified way so all Tribal members who are in crisis, recovery and their Loved ones and support groups can also be provided the support they need.

We are taking a “head on” approach and will arm our community with the resources to combat and overcome this disease that is threatening our People.

I care deeply about our people and I realize that addiction is a challenging issue to address – both from a governmental and personal stand-point. It hits close to home. Many of us grew up in a time when these issues were not discussed openly because of the stigma and fear of shame. But that time is over. We need to address this head-on. We are losing too many of our cherished family members and Tribal Citizens to this disease.

Please join me in this fight for our lives. Together, we can bring healing to our community. Together, we can support each other and find effective solutions.

Kutâputunumuw!