Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wampanoag Tribes In Territorial Dispute

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The following Cape Cod Online article, included in the Tribes In The Media series, concerns a dispute between the Wampanoag tribes in Massachusetts.

Pocasset Wampanoag bridle at perceived land
By George Brennan
Cape Cod Times
February 9, 2010

Interest in Fall River and Freetown by two Cape and Islands-based tribes has touched off a turf war.

Adding to the unrest is a proposal by the state's Commission on Indian Affairs, whose executive director, Jim Peters, is a Mashpee Wampanoag tribe member, to oversee 100 acres of the Watuppa Reservation in Fall River.

The Fall River-based Pocasset Wampanoag tribe was deeded rights to the land by Benjamin Church, a Colonial captain who recruited Indians to fight for his side during King Philip's War in the 17th century. Tribe members are upset that two nearby sister tribes are lusting over their backyard.

"That reservation in Fall River we got for spilling blood in wars," said Daryl "Black Eagle" Jamieson, vice chairman of the Pocasset Wampanoag. "It has nothing to do with Mashpees. They never fought in the King Philip War."

The Pocasset tribe received notification of the commission's proposal to take 100 acres of Watuppa into state trust even as the Times was breaking news of a meeting between Fall River Mayor William Flanagan and Mashpee tribe leaders about possibly moving the tribe's proposed Indian casino to the economically depressed city.

The state board will hear the trust proposal at 11 a.m. Feb. 23 at the commission's Boston office.


Deed overlooked
Meanwhile, the Pocasset tribe has filed a formal complaint with Gov. Deval Patrick's office saying the commission, which is supposed to represent the interests of all of the state's Native Americans, overstepped its bounds, Pocasset tribal council chairman George Spring Buffalo said.

"You can't put something into trust that we hold the deed to," he said. "I don't know where that's coming from."

Peters said the 100 acres is not being considered for a casino, despite a published report attributing that possibility to him.

Though Peters' tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) have talked with officials in Fall River and Freetown, it was not about this land, Peters said. The commission proposal is an attempt to protect the land, he said.

"I know both the Aquinnah and Mashpee are looking at land in Fall River, but this is not the parcel," Peters said.

Mashpee tribal council chairman Cedric Cromwell refused comment Friday through a spokesman.


Reservation land
The 100 acres is the portion of the Watuppa Reservation that remains in Fall River. In 1907, the land was taken by the city for its water supply.

Years later, the state added 277 acres in Freetown to the Watuppa Reservation as compensation for the land that was taken, Jamieson said. That Freetown land is under control of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Pocasset tribal officials are upset and hurt that Cromwell has not reached out to them. Jamieson said he's been with Cromwell recently at two drumming events and the Mashpee tribe's intentions were never discussed.

"I was more shocked and hurt to be honest with you that people would try to come up and take land that didn't belong to them," Jamieson said. "It's way out of their area."


Middleboro regrets
The Mashpee tribe has a deal with Middleboro to locate an Indian casino there, but the $250 million in roadwork, utilities and other infrastructure improvements agreed to by previous tribe administrators is making that project look less attractive.

Even if the 100 acres in Fall River were taken into state trust, it would still have to go through the federal process, said Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for the BIA.

If the Mashpee Wampanoag followed through and switched locations for its proposed casino, the new site would require a new application and all the reviews the current project must undergo, Darling said.

The Middleboro process has been stalled by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last February that the U.S. Department of the Interior has no authority to take land into federal trust for tribes recognized after 1934.

The Mashpee tribe's historic ties to those 539 acres in Middleboro were already called into question by other Wampanoag tribes, including the Pocassets. Any proposal in Fall River will face the same type of scrutiny.


No federal recognition
Pocasset leaders had their own meeting with Mayor Flanagan's office last Friday to talk about their historic ties to the area and to let him know that if any casino is to be built in the city, it will be by their tribe, Buffalo said.

But only the Mashpee and Aquinnah tribes are federally recognized, which under federal law gives them the ability to open a casino provided the state legalizes expanded gambling. Pocasset is among the state's recognized tribes and has filed letter of intent to become federally recognized, tribe leaders said, but without that they can't pursue a casino.

That's not on the top of their lists for economic development anyway, Jamieson said. The Pocassets would like to look at other alternatives for the land, like wind energy, which would keep the land pristine, he said.

Jamieson said he doesn't like what Indian casinos have done to tribes here and across the country.

"We're fighting amongst our own people, and for what?" Jamieson said. "The Mashpee people are our brothers. It's a shame we can't sit down together and commingle. It breaks my heart."


1675-1676 - King Philip's War rages in southeastern Massachusetts, a war between English colonists and Native Americans. The tide turns in the war when some Indians, including the members of the Fall River-based Pocasset Wampanoag, agree to fight alongside the English.

1709 - Benjamin Church, the colonial captain who recruited tribe members, deeds land in Fall River to the Pocasset tribe members who fought on the English side. It becomes known as the Watuppa Reservation, named for two ponds in the area. 1907 - Approximately 100 acres of land is taken by eminent domain by Fall River for the city's water supply. 1930s - The state, under pressure from federal officials, provides 277 acres in Freetown to compensate for the land taken by Fall River officials.2010 - The Commission on Indian Affairs schedules a meeting to consider taking 100 acres of Watuppa Reservation into state trust, even as two tribes - Mashpee Wampanoag and Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) - look at land in Fall River and Freetown for possible casinos.