Brian and Sassamin Weeden, elected as Male and Female Co-Presidents of United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY)

Well-known among active tribe members is that we have a group of outstand- ing young people coming of age right before our very eyes.

But, I can barely contain the pride and joy I feel now that the rest of Indian Country has also begun to take notice.

As you may have heard through the grapevine or maybe saw on social media, Brian Weeden, Sassamin Weeden, and Ke- turah Peters have established themselves as national youth leaders.

Brian and Sassamin were elected as Male and Female Co-Chairs of United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) at the native youth organization’s mid-year conference in Washington, D.C. last month.

Since UNITY was founded in 1976, the election of Brian and Sassamin marks the first time that a brother and sister duo were chosen by their peers to serve at the top level of the national network organization whose mission is to promote the personal development, citizenship, and leadership of Native American youth.

Keturah, meanwhile, was elected to serve as the UNITY Northeast Representative. All three are definitely represent- ing Mashpee well, as they joined 1,000 other Native youth from 230 different tribes across the nation for another first: the first ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering held at the Renaissance Washington in downtown D.C.

The four-day event was the kick-off of President Obama’s Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) initiative, which he called for back in April as a way to help foster a movement committed to improving the lives of Native youth across Indian Country.

What a thrill it was to hear the First Lady, Michelle Obama, talk about how “Gen-I isn’t just a summit. This isn’t just a program. Gen-I is a movement, you understand? It’s about tribal youth from across this continent embracing your heritage, telling your stories, and teaching people about your central role in our history and our future,” Mrs. Obama said.

If you know Brian, Sassamin and Keturah like I do then you know each of them are great examples of native youth who have embraced our heritage, tell our stories and teach people about the central role the Wampanoag people have played in this country’s history.

Yet, even as the history of in- digenous people everywhere must be acknowledged and shared in order to understand how we got to the present moment, it isn’t the end of the story. In fact, it is only the beginning – the foundation from which we can work together to face the difficult challenges impacting our youth in the present, from the prevalence of suicide to other self-destructive behaviors. And, as we are all painfully aware, we are not immune from the pitfalls that can ensnare even the best of us.

But neither are we isolated or alone. We face common problems in Indian Country to which we need common (and creative) solutions.

Now, I know it’s a cliché to say the youth are the future. But, no matter how many times you’ve heard it before doesn’t make it any less true.

Not only Brian, Sassamin and Keturah, but with so many of our youth stepping up in many different ways – succeeding in school, engaged in the community – we should all feel confident that the future of our Tribe will be in very capable hands.

I give praise to our Almighty Creator for giving us these special young people. Please join me in encouraging our youth to dream big, reach far, and to become leaders in every walk of life.


Cedric Cromwell Qaqeemashq (Running Bear)

Mashpee maps its future

Posted Aug. 11, 2015 at 2:01 AM

Mashpee has a lot of land on its hands.

The town has, over the years, taken possession of more than 500 acres because the owners failed to pay property taxes or chose to walk away from their land. The property in question is a mixture of valuable and less-valuable parcels.

Selectmen have periodically gone to voters asking permission to sell specific lots, but have had mixed results. That is exactly why the board created a committee to consider and categorize the land. Now that group has put forth a report that will undoubtedly be parsed and picked apart, but which will at least serve as a solid starting point for moving forward.

Over the years, the Board of Selectmen has tried to deal with the land on a parcel-by-parcel basis. The challenge with this is that the board must seek approval from town meeting every time it wants to change the use of, or sell, any parcel. This is a cumbersome and sometimes challenging process that can often fall apart at town meeting.

In addition to managing the properties, the town must also contend with the fact that as long as this land remains on the town books, it does not generate tax revenue, which could be considerable, given that the total assessed value of the lots comes in at more than $26 million. Then there is the prospect of generating a bit of immediate cash for the town by selling the land for development.

Fortunately, it appears as though Mashpee selectmen took the approach that a diversity of opinion was wiser than a rubber stamp committee. Reports indicate that there were a wide variety of viewpoints on the committee, with at least one member wanting to sell off all the land and another hoping the town would keep all the land for conservation. Instead of moving to either extreme, the group placed each parcel into one of six categories based on usage, including affordable housing, conservation, wastewater mitigation, park, sale, and reserve, meaning that the town would hold onto it for now.

If approved by voters, the group’s proposal would ensure that nearly half the land remains in reserve, either because there is no clear use for it right now or because there are continuing title issues. The committee also proposed that an additional 183 acres be set aside for conservation. In the end, only about five-and-a-half acres, with an assessed value of $1.175 million, were recommended for sale. The remaining acreage will be divided among the other uses, including just over 16 acres for affordable housing.

Mashpee has learned well from the ghosts of past property challenges. Town officials saw what had not worked and, instead of continuing to bang their collective heads against the same wall, came up with a public input approach that has reached a sensible consensus. That process continues; the committee held one public hearing in July, and has slated another for Aug. 25. This allows for substantial input from an even wider constituency, and may help when it comes time for town meeting to weigh in on the issue.

As with any discussion involving the disbursement of public property, there will likely be some spirited debate about individual parcels. Homeowners and conservationists may make arguments about this lot or that lot, but the committee has tackled a massive task with careful consideration and provided not only a starting point for the people of Mashpee, but a land management template that other towns across Cape Cod would do well to consider.