February 16, 2007
A history of the Wampanoag
Before written history:
Archaeologists have found artifacts that link the Paleo-Indians of 15,000 to 25,000 years ago to the Indians of today. They probably arrived in North America via the shallow Bering Strait at the end of the Ice Age.
When the Pilgrims land in Plymouth in November 1620, Squanto, a Wampanoag from the Patuxet community, stays with them for a year and a half until his death of smallpox in November 1622. The Indians help the Pilgrims survive the harsh winter of 1620. The Wampanoag are skilled farmers, fishermen, hunters and gatherers.
The Indian leader Massasoit signs a peace treaty with the governor of the English colony, John Carver. The treaty states that the English will respect the right of the Indians and in return the Indians will not harm the English.
After Massasoit dies in 1661, the Wampanoag leadership passes to his two sons, Wamsutta (or Alexander) and Metacomet (or Philip). Alexander dies while a captive of the English, and Philip becomes the king of the Wampanoag. He launches a war against the English, a conflict that later becomes known as King Philip's War. The Mashpee Wampanoag are not involved in this war. After King Philip loses the war, the Wampanoag are no longer allowed to practice their traditional way of life and are assigned to reservations.
Plymouth Court confirms the title of the ''South Sea Indians'' to the land between what is now the Santuit River and the Cotuit and Childs rivers. This land runs through southwestern Mashpee and Falmouth. Under the ruling the land cannot be purchased by the English without the consent of the Indians.
A few years later, the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies merge to form Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts governor and Legislature agree to allow limited self-government to the Wampanoag in Mashpee.
After the Revolutionary War, the Legislature repeals that arrangement, ending Mashpee's mixed Indian-white government.
President George Washington signs the Trade and Non-Intercourse Act, which requires the approval of the federal government before Indian land can be sold or transferred.
After years of non-Indians coming onto Indian land to cut wood, the Wampanoag intercept non-Indian woodcutters and order them to unload wood from their wagon. When they refuse, the Rev. William Apes and six Wampanoag unload the wagon and send the men on their way empty-handed. The incident is known as the ''Woodland Revolt.''
The revolt comes to the attention of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, whose criticism about the state's treatment of the Mashpee Indians moved the state Legislature to pass the 1834 Mashpee District Act. The act gives more self-governance to the Wampanoag.
Dr. Milton Earle compiles the first detailed census of Indians living in Massachusetts at the request of the Legislature. The report - ''The Indians of the Commonwealth'' - examines the history of the state's existing Indian plantations and recommends citizenship and state aid to assimilate natives into the mainstream. There were 451 Wampanoag living in the area now known as Mashpee.
Mashpee and Gay Head on Martha's Vineyard become the last two Indian districts to be incorporated as towns of the commonwealth. In Mashpee there are no longer restrictions on the sale of land to non-Indians.
Mashpee's remaining commons are auctioned for $7,056.76, which is turned over to the town.
The Wampanoag represent most of the town's year-round population, and maintain political contro l of the town. The Wampanoag hunt and fish on the town's undeveloped land.
Residential developments such as New Seabury begin to alter the town's demographics, and the power structure of Mashpee. The Wampanoag begin to lose their political control. The long-free movement of the Wampanoag through the woodlands and water for hunting and fishing is impeded.
The tribe forms the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Inc. to articulate Indian concerns.
The council notifies the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs that the Mashpee Wampanoag intend to seek federal recognition.
The Mashpee Wampanoag file suit in U.S. District Court in Boston staking their claim to land in Mashpee and parts of Sandwich, Falmouth and Barnstable. The tribe says the land was illegally taken. The suit names New Seabury and 145 other non-Indian landowners who held title to 20 or more acres in town, and serves as a class action against more than 1,500 homeowners. The Wampanoag seek the return of 11,000 undeveloped acres. Settlement attempts, which went as far as the White House, fail.
Federal Judge Walter J. Skinner allows an amendment exempting homeowners. But he declines a Wampanoag request to postpone the case until the federal government makes a decision on recognition. The lawyer representing the landowners, James St. Clair of Hale and Dorr in Boston, says the Wampanoag are not a tribe and have no standing to pursue the land suit.
Oct. 17, 1977
Judge Skinner convenes a trial on whether the Wampanoag are a tribe.
Following a 40-day trial, the judge instructs the jury that they cannot find the Wampanoag are a tribe. The jury responds that the Mashpee Wampanoag were a tribe in 1834 and 1842 - but not 1790, 1869, 1870 and 1976. The dates correspond to key dates in the history of the tribe and its suit, such as the 1834 Mashpee District Act and the 1870 incorporation of Mashpee.
Judge Skinner dismisses the land suit, saying that the Wampanoag are not a tribe and have no standing to sue.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals upholds Skinner's decision. Later that year, the U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear the case.
A subsequent suit filed by Indians, including some Mashpee Wampanoag, seeks the return of 24,000 acres on the Cape and Martha's Vineyard. This suit also fails. But the Mashpee suits and subsequent appeals cloud land titles in Mashpee for years, halting development in the town and creating bitterness between Indian and non-Indian residents of Mashpee.
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe submits its recognition petition to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The bureau responds to the petition with a letter asking the tribe to provide more genealogical information and more evidence of the tribe as a community.
The bureau receives the tribe's response and places the tribe on the agency's ''ready for active consideration'' list.
Under a court order, the bureau jumps another tribe, the Muwekma of California, ahead of the Wampanoag for consideration. The Wampanoag protest in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, which orders the bureau to decide whether the Mashpee Wampanoag should get federal recognition by Dec. 21, 2002.
On June 10, an appeals court stays the lower court judge's order until a government appeal can be heard. On Dec. 20, 2002, an Interior Department appeal puts on hold a Dec. 21 date for a final finding on the Mashpee tribe's federal recognition petition.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., rules against the tribe, which had sued the Interior Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs arguing that officials delayed acting on the tribe's petition but sends the case back to federal district court.
Wampanoag Tribal Council President Glenn Marshall hires the lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig LLP and campaign contributions follow.
The tribe's lawyers file the last of their motions, arguing that the BIA has had plenty of time to consider their petition for federal recognition.
A lobbyist for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council is implicated in the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation of Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, two high-powered lobbyists accused of bilking $45 million from Indian tribes. Kevin Ring, a former Abramoff associate and current lobbyist for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council, comes under Justice Department scrutiny, as do three other former lobbyists with Abramoff's firm, Greenberg Traurig.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs promises to rule by early 2007 on the Mashpee Wampanoag bid for federal recognition.
Kevin Ring is implicated in the ongoing U.S. Dept. of Justice investigation of Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon. E-mails recently made public indicate Jack Abramoff personally lobbied Interior Department officials on the Mashpee tribe's behalf. This comes after Wampanoag tribal leaders said they only had a marginal relationship with embattled Republican lobbyist Abramoff.
More than two dozen members of the Mashpee tribe are interviewed by Bureau of Indian Affairs anthropologist Kim Cook.
March 31, 2006
The Mashpee Wampanoag petition for federal recognition receives preliminary approval. Once a 180-day comment period ends, the department has until March 31, 2007, to issue a final determination.
The Mashpee selectmen vote against filing a challenge to the Mashpee Wampanoag's tribal suit, convinced that tribal leaders would not seek to revive their 1976 lawsuit to reclaim land that once belonged to the tribe.
A lawsuit is filed by four members of the tribe in Barnstable Superior Court that claims financial malfeasance by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe's board of directors. The lawsuit seeks to freeze the tribe's finances until Wampanoag leaders provide details on their business practices, including their relationship with real estate and casino developer Herb Strather.
Dec. 18, 2006
The tribal council, the tribe's administrative arm, votes to shun the four plaintiffs - Stephanie Tobey-Roderick, Michelle Fernandes, Amelia Bingham and her son, Stephen Bingham, and a fifth member, Michelle Russell - but does not notify them until almost a month later.
Dec. 21, 2006
Barnstable Superior Court Judge Richard Connon hears the case. He issues a ruling on Dec. 29 denying the petition to freeze the assets. However, Connon does order council officials to allow plaintiffs to see the financial books. By this time, the members are already shunned.
The four plaintiffs, including tribal elder Amelia Bingham, and a fifth tribe member receive letters about the temporary ban in mid-January. The ''shunning'' prevents them from participating in any tribal activities, holding tribal offices or receiving tribal membership benefits for seven years.
The office of state Attorney General Martha Coakley reviews the complaints of four tribe members who sued the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council alleging fiscal improprieties between council officers and Detroit casino developer Herb Strather.
Sources: Cape Cod Times Archives, ''Son of Mashpee'' by Earl Mills Sr. and Alicja Mann.
(Published: February 16, 2007)