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.
Cedric Cromwell Qaqeemasq (Running Bear)