Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Twisted Tales of the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Gaming Claims

Who is this Mashpee Wampanoag group and what's the story behind their attempts to become casino magnates in Massachusetts?

The Wampanoag are famous for being among the first Indian tribes to come into contact with European colonists in the New World.  These colonists later fought with famed Wampanoag chief Massasoit.  However, the tribe was thought to be largely wiped out in the late 1600's during wars with the colonists.
Today the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe consists of just over 1,000 self-registered members.  They claim to have been organized since 1924 running annual powwows led by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council.  Today that council is headed by chairman Glenn Marshall.  What happened to this tribe between the late 1600's and 1924 isn't well documented (as it likely ceased to exist as an organized entity) other than to note that the few surviving descendants joined other tribes, intermarried and assimilated with various colonist groups. 
However, the current group claiming Wampanoag blood has recently gained recognition as an Indian tribal group after years of legal battles to establish their claims.  The Mashpee Wampanoag obtained provisional recognition as an Indian tribe from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in April 2006.   According to the Mashpee Wampanoag "enrollment ordinance" one needs to meet one of the following elements to be eligible for membership in the tribe:
A.  Persons who trace direct lineal decent to: (1) to a Mashpee Indian identified in the Report to the Governor and Council, concerning the Indians of the Commonwealth, Under the Act of April 16, 1859 written by John Milton and published in 1861 by William  White, Printer to the State, in Boston, Massachusetts (hereinafter “Earle Report”); or (2) to the 19th Century unions of Georgina Palmer and Charles Peters or Leander Peters and Lydia DeGrasse; and,
B. Persons who demonstrate tribal community involvement, (read -'friends of the casino consortium')
C. Persons who have not publicly denounced Mashpee tribal existence or their affiliation to the Tribe; (God forbid they admit the tribe may not actually exist anymore) and
D. Persons who have lived in or near Mashpee, Massachusetts, or have had family members actively involved in tribal community affairs who have lived in or near Mashpee, Massachusetts for at least the preceding 20 years prior to application for membership (read, a tight circle of trusted friend and family...)
While restrictive from a geographic and local participation requirement, this tribal membership based on basic remote lineage to a 19th century census taken nearly 200 years after the main Wampanoag tribe was wiped out allows for people with only minute fractional Indian heritage to qualify for membership status in this tribe.  Minimal tribal membership blood line requirements for other recognized tribes typically range from 1/16 - 1/4 genetic lineage; however, the Wampanoag membership is largely based on residential longevity and ties to mixed Euro-new American heritage close-knit family group.

The current Wampanoag consortium, established in 1976 from the apparent descendants of these mixed Indian-European colonist unions, purchased land in Middleborough, Massachusetts in the 1990's - one of several locations where they have been lobbying to build a casino. However, Indian gaming operations are regulated by the National Indian Gaming Commission established by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.  This Act contains a general prohibition against Indian gaming on lands acquired into trust after October 17, 1988.   The Mashpee Wampanoag families have no officially recognized land in trust and their attempts to gain approvals for their gaming ventures have been met with legal and government approval challenges.  Still, with significant dollar opportunities at stake, the consortium, with apparent deep pocketed backers, has persisted.
The Wampanoag's casino lobbying has included various federal charges of corruption.  In February 2009 Mashpee Wampanoag chairman Glenn A. Marshall pleaded guilty to federal charges of violations of campaign finance law, tax fraud, wire fraud, and Social Security fraud in connection with the effort to secure federal recognition for the tribe to help clear the way for the proposed casino development.
The tribe was also represented by lobbyists Jack Abramoff whose firm reportedly bilked Indian tribes, including the Wampanoag, of more than $45 million for access to elected officials to help them secure support for casino plans. The Wampanoag's casino plans have been supported by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, Governor Deval Patrick, Senator Therese Murray  and an influential former Massachusetts Congressman Bill Delahunt.  Delahunt left his congressional seat and turned lobbyist to represent the casino project. Both Kerry and Delahunt were recipients of campaign contributions associated with the Wampanoag Tribe campaign finance law convictions and the Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal.  Patrick, Delahunt, Kerry and current Massachusetts State Senate President Therese Murray were cites as top recipients of Wampanoag and state casino lobbying interest campaign contributions.
All of which makes for an interesting kettle of fish to say the least.   Your comments and insights here are welcomed as we explore the dealings and deeds of the Mashpee Wampanoag casino crowd.