(A message from Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell which will also appear in “Indian Country Today: Year in Review” compiled by ICT Staff writer Gale Toensing)
I can’t look forward to 2016 without looking back at 2015, and the centuries before. Last year at this time, Mashpee was still a “landless” tribe. We have left that painful truth behind. For centuries, we have lived in our homelands, walked among our ancestors, but without power to protect those homelands and with only limited power to protect our people. This year, our ancestors have helped us leave some of the pain behind. This year, we have achieved our first trust land base, founded in the record left for us by our ancestors, as they fought to occupy and protect that land base over hundreds of years of pressure. We have their records, the Interior Department has their records, and now the past has come forward to support the present, as it always has. We know an end to the centuries of technicalities designed to remove us from our lands. From this time forward, our children and their children will know that our homeland can be protected. And it will be used for the people.What comes next? We have centuries worth of damage to repair. And we are expecting to build on the foundation of our first reservation. Our people need economic development, so that we can establish and enhance basic services. Like much of Indian country, we need to provide employment and educational opportunities, we need to continue to improve the availability of health and human services to our people. On our reservation.
We are proud to be able to refer to our reservation, finally. On that reservation, we will build tribal housing, to make it affordable for our people to return to their homelands. We will continue the important work of our language and culture departments, because we recognize that living among our ancestors, in their language, on their lands, is the way that we will move forward into the future.
On a national level, we look forward to continue working with the governmental officials who have helped us to reach this stage in our journey. We will continue to benefit from the hard work of the team at the Interior Department. We thank Assistant Secretary Washburn for his dedication and courageous efforts to improve the tribal trust relationship across all branches of government. We are confident that these improvements will continue under Acting Assistant Secretary Larry Roberts and the rest of the team now in place.
In an election year, the thicket of issues in Washington becomes ever more tangled. We will continue to support efforts to “fix” the uncertainty introduced by the ¬Carcieri decision. We remain concerned by attacks on tribal sovereignty in Congress, and in the courts. These attacks continue, and they are troubling. But of one thing, we are certain – we are not going away. Like our relatives in tribes across the country – we will remain – forever.