The Fall River-based Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe is disputing the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s claims to historical roots in Taunton, and said Mashpees shouldn’t have exclusive rights to a tribal casino license for a gaming facility it hopes to build in the Silver City.
Instead, Pocasset Tribal Chairman George Spring Buffalo said that all Native Americans in the state — those who are affiliated with a federally recognized tribe and those who are not — should come together in pursuit of a casino in southeastern Massachusetts under the ownership of a collective tribal nation.
“It’s not (the Mashpee Wampanoag’s) territory,” Buffalo said.
“It’s our territory. We don’t particularly like people coming into our territory and making money off of it. ... We are looking, like we’ve always been saying, we’re looking for a nation’s casino in Massachusetts. Not one tribe. Not the state trying to pit all the tribes against each other for a license.”
The Massachusetts gaming legislation signed into law last year provides three casino licenses, and gives a federally recognized Native American tribe the first shot at applying for one in the southeastern Massachusetts region. In addition to the Mashpees, the Aquinnah Wampanoag are also pursuing the tribal license for a location on sovereign land on Martha’s Vineyard, or in Freetown, Lakeville or Fall River.
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell disputed the claim that his tribe doesn’t have roots in Taunton.
“The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s historical connection to Taunton, as well as all of southeastern Massachusetts, is well-documented,” Cromwell said. “We are in compliance with all eligibility requirements of the applicable state and federal laws regarding gaming, and we are working hard to bring jobs, revenue and economic opportunity to Taunton, southeastern Massachusetts and our tribe with our destination resort casino.”
Pocasset and Mashpee history Buffalo said that the Pocasset tribe — which has held reservation lands in Fall River since colonial times but is not federally recognized, although it has an application in — has true claim to origins in southeastern Massachusetts, while the Mashpees were a “conglomeration” of Native Americans that came together to Cape Cod from all over after King Philip’s War from areas that may have included Taunton, among many other places like Fall River and Maine.
“They never had political or social connection to the Taunton area except for some members (who) came from there,” Buffalo said. “The Cromwell administration doesn’t have a clue.”
Lesley Rich, an attorney for the Pocasset, said the Mashpee Wampanoag’s logic can be compared to a statement that “the Irish came to the U.S. from Ireland, therefore the U.S. now owns Ireland.”
When asked about the Aquinnahs, Buffalo said they gave up their sovereignty in a deal that led to federal recognition in the 1980s. The Aquinnah Tribe declined to comment on the Pocasset’s claims, but have previously said they did not give up their sovereignty.
While he didn’t feel that the Aquinnahs would qualify under the law, Buffalo criticized the Massachusetts gaming legislation. Specifically, Buffalo said the law only allows a casino for a federally recognized tribe, and that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is composed of all white men — and no Native Americans or minorities.
“Just because you are a federally recognized tribe doesn’t give you a special wand giving you the ability to do things right,” Buffalo said. “We get along good with the Mashpee, and they are friends ... but we need to come together for a common cause.”
By the law In order for the Mashpee Tribe to build a casino in Taunton, the law requires that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs first take land into trust on behalf of the tribe, converting the land into sovereign Indian territory. But the tribe is required to show the BIA that it has historical connections to the land to receive approval.
In March, former U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, a California Republican, wrote Gov. Deval Patrick informing him that a land trust dispute like the one the Pocasset are making would likely create a legal roadblock for a tribe to get approval from the BIA. Pombo, who oversaw tribal issues as the chair of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, recommended the idea of a consortium of Massachusetts tribes jointly operating a casino in the state.
The Mashpee and the Aquinnah, however, appeared to be opposed to the consortium idea. On the other hand, Buffalo said the two tribes make up less than 25 percent of the Native Americans in the state.
“The Mashpee and the Aquinnah are a minority of Native Americans in the commonwealth,” Buffalo said.