Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Celebrates Federal Approval of 321 Acres for Reservation

A Celebration in Photos

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The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe celebrates the announcement of approval of its land in trust application.

MASHPEE – The drumbeat was loud and sustained, the chanting was in unison and the joy and pride undeniable. More than 300 members of the 2,800-citizen Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe arrived at the Mashpee Community and Government Center yesterday, with just two hours notice, to celebrate federal approval of its land in trust application.

The celebration continues at the tribe’s headquarters today.

The approval secures the tribe’s 321-acre reservation on land in Mashpee, where the tribe is headquartered, and Taunton, where the tribe wants to build its first casino.

Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Wampanoag Tribal Council, said the chants are done on special occasions.

“Those are honor songs that are very special for our tribe, our word song and our chant song. Those are special when we celebrate very spiritual times. This land is spiritual. This is Mother Earth. Without Mother Earth, we wouldn’t be there. We wouldn’t have anything to stand on. So we give that honor back and that grace back to Mother Earth through those songs, that we stand on her and that she provides for us. And here we are today, we’re being provided this trust land. It’s so important for our people.”

Cromwell said that after 12,000 years on the land and 400 years in modern times, the tribe finally has land into trust.

“It’s an amazing time, a true uplifting time for our tribe where we’ve finally made it to that place where we can have our sovereign land for our tribal nation. It’s an amazing time. It’s a renaissance time. It’s an exciting time and we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Cromwell said. He said the tribe will focus on infrastructure, economic development and housing for its tribe members on the land, 170 acres in Mashpee and 151 acres in Taunton.

He said getting the land into trust brings him back to thoughts about his mother, Constance “Lone Eagless” Cromwell, who died on May 5 and was tribal secretary for 35 years. “She raised me to do this,” he said. His mother and his mother-in-law Eileen Frye, he said, were both “warrior women that believed in their people.”

“So I’m feeling them and I understand that we’ve done the right thing and I’ve done what I’ve been asked to do by my ancestors and by my people. It’s a proud time. It’s a time of commitment and hard work and selflessness,” he said.

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Vice-Chair Jessie “Little Doe” Baird, sitting with her 7-month-old granddaughter Isabelle Wilsey, said that when her daughter is older, she will talk to her about the significance of this day.

“I’ll tell her that as this occurred, I was thinking that I had done my job and left something for her that wasn’t here when I was born and now it’s going to be her job to leave something on the land for her babies that wasn’t here when she was born,” she said.

Tribe member Paula Peters said she believes the land in trust approval is more important to the tribe than federal recognition.

“We’ve waited such a long time. . . . This is the piece that assures us legacy and our ancestral homeland. This is what this has been all about from the very beginning. A lot of people don’t understand that it’s been 40 years in the making and this is just a start. We’re just so proud and so pleased. I’m a little disappointed that people like my father, Russell Peters, who started all of this with his council members back in the 70s and those council members didn’t survive to see this, because they really started this for us. It’s a shame that it took so long,” she said.

Peters said that when the tribe first asked for its land back, which resulted in a land suit with the town, it was in the mid-1970s.

“Cape Cod had become one of the fastest growing regions of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. We’re neighbors to Camelot. This land was just far too valuable to turn it back to its rightful owners,” she said. “Probably the most cumbersome and expensive bureaucratic process known to man–the process of federal acknowledgement–stood in our way. It was created really all around our petition for federal acknowledgment back in 1976. That’s why it took so long. No one ever wanted to admit that the 1799 intercourse act really did protect us and that we really were who we say we are. Our petition for federal acknowledgement was, bar none, the strongest the Bureau of Indian Affairs has ever seen and still the wheels of justice turned so slowly. It just boggles the mind.”

Brian Weeden, co-president for the  United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) and the co-vice president of the National Congress of the American Indians Youth Commission, said he helped along the land in trust application on his 20th birthday on August 30. Along with tribe member Paula Peters, Weeden said, the two worked at the Barnstable Registry of Deeds, trying to identify the lands that were still in tribal hands prior to 1934.

A team of tribe members assisted with the application.

“This is a very good day,” Weeden said. “This is the first of many good days for our people. I’m glad that are elders are still here, some of them, to see this day. I’m also proud of our tribal council and everyone who put an effort forward in bringing us this land into trust today. There’s no stopping us now. We’re going to keep on going forward. This is only a portion of the land but I would like to see all of it returned to our tribe.”

Abigail Peters, the 2015-2016 Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow Princess said, “This day is extraordinary, happy for me. It’s something I’ll never forget. It’ll go down in history. It’s something that makes me and my tribe happy and I’m really happy to be representing them,” she said.


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