Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 United States ( Massachusetts)
English, Wampanoag
traditional tribal religion
Related ethnic groups
other Wampanoag people

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe (formerly Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribal Council, Inc.) is one of two federally recognized tribes of Wampanoag people in Massachusetts. Recognized in 2007, they are headquartered in Mashpee on Cape Cod. The other Wampanoag tribe is the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on Martha's Vineyard.

The tribe has its own health services, police force, court system, and education departments.[1]

In 2019, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe consisted of more than 2,900 enrolled members. In 2015 their 170 acres in Mashpee and an additional 150 acres in Taunton, Massachusetts were taken into trust on their behalf by the US Department of Interior, establishing these parcels as reservation land.

On March 27, 2020, under the Trump Administration, the Tribal Council was informed by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs that reservation designation would be rescinded and, with the US Department of the Interior, over 300 acres of land would be removed from the federal trust. Cedric Cromwell, the tribal chair, said this action is "unnecessary" and "cruel."[2] "This is an existential crisis for tribes," said Jean-Luc Pierite, of the North American Indian Center of Boston, a Boston-based social services provider and advocacy group.[3] On June 6, a US District Court ruling reversed the Department of Interior's ruling and ordered the DOI to maintain the reservation status of the tribe's 321 acres of land until the department issues a new decision.[4] On February 20, 2021, the federal government decided to drop the legal battle against the Mashpee lands.[5]


Indigenous peoples have been living on Cape Cod for at least 12,000 years. The historic Algonquian-speaking Wampanoag are one of 69 tribes of the original Wampanoag Nation; they are the Native people encountered by the English colonists of the New Plymouth Colony in the 17th century. The Wampanoag also controlled considerable coastal area. They are one of the several Algonquian-speaking tribal nations in what are now considered Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The Wampanoag and English (later European Americans) have interacted and shaped each other's cultures for centuries, with marriage between the groups also taking place.

English colonists began to settle in and around the traditional tribal community of present-day Mashpee, Massachusetts also called Marshapoag (Big Pond), and Saukatukett (South Sea), in the 1630s when Rev Leverech of Sandwich began preaching there. He was later replaced in 1658 by missionary Rev Richard Bourne, from the neighboring town of Sandwich. In 1629 the Mashpee Wampanoag, along with eight other Wampanoag tribes granted “Indian Title” to the King of England to a tract of land that would become Plymouth Colony. In 1660, Bourne assisted the tribe in codifying the territory in at least one of two deeds. Beginning in 1665, the Wampanoag, petitioned the General Court for Mashpee’s status as a ‘praying town’, a form of government established by Missionary Rev John Eliot and confirmed by the General Court of the colony. In May 1666, a delegation of English leaders, including Richard Bourne, John Eliot and his son, John Cotton, Thomas Mayhew, and two Wampanoag interpreters convened a week-long meeting in Mashpee to hear from the Tribe regarding their petition (hearing the confessions) and report back to the General Court. The petition being granted, the Mashpees now governed themselves via the law of ‘praying towns’. Praying Town status afforded tribes protection of the English Crown and a greater chance to remain on their homelands. While this helped to maintain tenure in the land, these new laws also patterned English systems of justice and took away freedoms of the Wampanoag to live traditionally.

The "Old Indian Meeting House", built in 1684 at Mashpee, is the oldest Native American church in the United States.

Following the Wampanoag defeat in King Philip's War (1675–1676), those on the mainland were resettled with the Sakonnet in present-day Rhode Island. Other Wampanoag were forced to settle in the praying towns, such as Mashpee, in Barnstable County on Cape Cod. The colonists sold many Wampanoag men into slavery in the Caribbean, and enslaved women and children in New England.

The colonists designated Mashpee on Cape Cod as the largest Native American reservation in Massachusetts. The town's name is an Anglicization of a Native name, Mâseepee: mâs meaning "large" and, upee meaning "water." It is so named for Mashpee/Wakeby Pond, the largest fresh water pond on Cape Cod.

In 1763, the British Crown designated Mashpee as a plantation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, against the will of the Wampanoag. By this designation, the Crown gave the colonial district of Mashpee authority to integrate into its territory the area governed by the Mashpee Wampanoag. The colony gave the natives the "right" to elect their own officials to maintain order in their area, but otherwise subjected them to colonial government. The Wampanoag population of the plantation declined steadily due to social disruption and infectious disease contracted from the colonists. They also suffered from continuing encroachment on their lands by the English.

Following the American Revolutionary War, the State in 1788 revoked Mashpee self-government, which European-American officials considered a failure. They appointed a committee of overseers, consisting of five European-American members, to supervise the Mashpee. When William Apess, a Pequot Methodist preacher, helped the Mashpee Wampanoag lead a peaceful protest in 1837 against the overseers, who did not protect the Wampanoag from colonists stealing their wood, the governor threatened a military response. Rule by the overseers resulted in the loss of additional Wampanoag lands.

19th-century restrictions and land loss[edit]

In 1834, the state returned a certain level of self-government to the Wampanoag, although they were not completely autonomous. With the idea that emulating European-American farming would encourage assimilation, in 1842 the state broke up some of the Wampanoag communal land. It distributed 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) of their 13,000-acre (53 km2) property in allotments of 60-acre (240,000 m2) parcels to heads of households, so that each family could have individual ownership for subsistence farming.

The legislature passed laws prohibiting European Americans from encroaching on Wampanoag land, but the state did not enforce these. The competing settlers also stole wood from the reservation. The Wampanoag held a large region, once rich in wood, fish and game, which was desired by white settlers. They envied the growing community of Mashpee. The Mashpee Indians suffered more conflicts with their white neighbors than did other more isolated or less desirable Indian settlements in the state.[6]

In 1870 the state, against a vote of the tribe, incorporated the Town of Mashpee as a town. It was the second-to-last jurisdiction on the Cape to undergo the process. Mashpee Wampanoag held every seat in Town Government until 1967. With European Americans moving to Mashpee in growing numbers and taking seats in town government, ultimately the Mashpee Wampanoag lost control of town government. The majority of the Tribe’s citizens live in and around Mashpee today. Many also worked on whaling and other ships that operated from Cape and other Massachusetts ports in the 19th century. They continue to identify as Mashpee Wampanoag by their common culture. Census rolls of the Tribe grew from marriages and mixed-race children as they formed unions with neighbors.

20th century[edit]

Beginning in the 1970s, the Mashpee Wampanoag worked to regain its political power; it sought federal recognition of its tribal status by the federal government. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council, Inc was incorporated in 1972 under the leadership of its first president, Russell "Fast Turtle" Peters. In 1974 the Council petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for recognition. Like other "landless" tribes of the Atlantic Coast area, they encountered difficulties documenting their continuity. The recognition process required documentation of continued existence since first contact with European arrivals. In many areas, outsiders assumed that, as tribes became multi-racial, they no longer were "Indians." But the Mashpee Wampanoag had experience in continuing their culture, and most of their descendants identified as Wampanoag. The federal acknowledgment petition documents were a collection of 54,000 pages before the petition was considered by the Department of Interior Office of Federal Acknowledgement.

In 1976 the tribe filed a landmark land claim lawsuit, suing the Town of Mashpee for the return of ancestral homelands. The US District Court ruled that, lacking federal recognition as a tribe, the Mashpee Wampanoag people had no standing to pursue the land claim. The tribe continued to pursue federal recognition for three decades, gaining it in 2007.

21st century[edit]

In 2000 the Mashpee Wampanoag Council was headed by chairman Glenn Marshall. Marshall led the group until 2007, when it was disclosed that he had a prior conviction for rape, had lied about having a military record, and was under investigation associated with the tribe's casino lobbying efforts.[7]

Marshall was removed from office by the Tribe and was a succeeded by tribal council vice-chair Shawn Hendricks. He held the position until Marshall pleaded guilty in 2009 to federal charges of embezzling, wire fraud, mail fraud, tax evasion, and election finance law violations.[8][9] Marshall had steered tens of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to politicians through the tribe's hired lobbyist Jack Abramoff.[8] The latter was convicted of numerous charges in a much larger fraud scheme associated with Native American gaming, especially related to his representation of a Mississippi tribe.

On May 23, 2007, the Mashpee Tribe gained formal federal recognition as a tribe.[10] Led by its chairman Shawn Hendricks, who was elected to succeed Marshall, tribe representatives worked with Abramoff's lobbyist colleague Kevin A. Ring to pursue a plan to develop Indian gaming, as this seemed a route to generate revenues to help the tribe take care of its people.[11] In 2008 Ring was indicted and convicted on federal corruption charges linked to his work for the Mashpee band.[11]

During this period, there was considerable internal tension within the tribe. Tribal elders sought access to the tribal council records detailing the council's involvement in the Ring scandal, filing a complaint in Barnstable Municipal Court. The tribal council voted to formally "shun" these members, banning these elders from the tribe for seven years. The federal government had also sought records from the tribe as part of its 2007 investigation into Abramoff and his colleagues.[12]

In 2009 the tribe elected council member Cedric Cromwell to the position of council chair and president. Cromwell's campaign had promised reforms. He worked to distance himself from the previous chairmen, although he had served on the tribal council for the prior six years during which the Marshall and Abramoff scandals took place. He was among those who voted to shun tribal members who tried to investigate.[13] A challenge to Cromwell's election by defeated candidates, following allegations of tampering with voting and enrollment records, was filed with the Tribal Court.[14]

Cromwell's administration has been hampered by a series of protests by elders over casino-related finances.[14][15]

Meanwhile, the tribe continued to negotiate with the state to gain a license to develop a casino on its land in Taunton. "In 2013, the Mashpee and the state reached an agreement that would see the group give Massachusetts 17 percent of all casino revenue it generated. However, those payments were contingent on the state not licensing a[nother] casino in the region."[16]

In September 2015 the Department of Interior took into trust 321 acres in Mashpee and Taunton, MA as a reservation for the Mashpee Wampanoag, who had held the land in fee simple. As reported by, "This is a reclamation of land that was once ours," tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell told The Boston Globe. "Tribal lands once stretched from Cape Ann to Rhode Island, and this new reservation represents only a dot on the map, but it feels really good."[16]

On March 27, 2020, the Bureau of Indian Affairs reportedly told the tribe that their reservation will be dis-established and their land taken out of trust, per an order from Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.[17][18]

On November 13, 2020, the chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and a small business owner from Warwick, Rhode Island, were indicted on two counts of accepting or paying bribes as an agent of an Indian tribal government and one count of conspiring to commit bribery. Chairman Cromwell was also indicted on four counts of extortion under color of official right and one count of conspiring to commit extortion. According to the indictment, Cromwell contracted with an architecture company owned by David DeQuattro, in connection with the Wampanoag Tribe’s plans to build a resort and casino in Taunton.[19]

In May 2021, Brian Weeden was elected chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag’s Tribal Council, as the youngest person ever to serve in this capacity.[1]


The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council has established criteria for enrollment as a member. The tribe requires that a person be able to document descent from recognized members, must live in or near Mashpee, and be active in the tribe.

There is currently a moratorium on membership enrollment with no end date in sight.[citation needed]

Land and casino[edit]

Location of the land holdings of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

After gaining federal recognition, the tribe lobbied the state for approval to build a casino on their Mashpee land. Indian gaming operations are regulated by the National Indian Gaming Commission established by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. It contains a general prohibition against gaming on lands acquired into trust by federally recognized tribes after October 17, 1988, the date of the act.[20] The tribe's attempts to gain approvals have been met with legal and government approval challenges, as it did not continuously control a reservation before this date. It had become landless because of colonial and local Massachusetts town actions against it.[21]

In November 2011, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law to license up to three sites, each in a separate region of the state, for gaming resort casinos and one for a slot machine parlor.[22] The Wampanoag were given a "headstart" to develop plans for a casino in southeastern part of the state.[23]

The tribe proposed a $500 million casino on land owned in Taunton, Massachusetts, which it then had under a purchase agreement. This is about 48 miles driving distance from Mashpee. They were challenged by the Pocasset Wampanoag, which was also seeking an agreement for a casino.[24] The state said it would accept the tribe's bid for a casino at that location, as one of three the state intends to authorize. By 2014, the tribe was completing an FEIS for development of the property in Taunton, as well as property it owns in Mashpee. The latter is to be developed for administrative office needs.

By 2010, the Wampanoag Tribe's plan had agreement for financing by the Malaysian Genting Group. It had gained the political support of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry,[25] Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and former Massachusetts Congressman Bill Delahunt, who is working as a lobbyist to represent the casino project.[26] Both Kerry and Delahunt received campaign contributions from the Wampanoag Tribe in transactions authorized by Glenn Marshall.[27][28] Marshall was later implicated in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Land trust[edit]

In September 2015, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, approved the tribe's application to take 321 acres of land into federal trust to create the Mashpee Wampanoag reservation; this included 170 acres of land the tribe already controlled in Mashpee and also gave the tribe jurisdiction over 150 newly acquired acres in Taunton.[29]

In February 2016, a group of Taunton property owners filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Mashpee Wampanoag's plans to build a gaming casino on the tribe's land in Taunton. They challenged the land-into-trust deal, citing Carcieri v. Salazar (2009), a U.S. Supreme Court decision which held that the government could not take land into trust for tribes recognized after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. The City of Taunton filed a brief in favor of the casino, as its residents had voted strongly in favor of its development, and Interior Department lawyers brought into question of Congress' original intent in making the 1934 law.[30][16]

Meanwhile, despite the court challenge, the Mashpee Wampanoag began development of the Taunton site.[30]

In July 2016, the U.S. district court found that the BIA had exceeded its authority, entered summary judgment for the plaintiffs, and ordered the matter remanded to the BIA.[31] In February 2020, the First Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the district court, maintaining that the Department of Interior lacked authority to take tribal land into trust for the benefit of the tribe.[31] On March 27, 2020, the Trump administration announced it would remove over 300 acres of land from the federal trust and take away the designation of "reservation." A hearing was scheduled for U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on May 7, 2020.[32]

A federal judge blocked Trump administration actions, a ruling the federal government appealed. The Biden administration dropped the appeal. A December 2021 ruling from the Department of the Interior gives the Mashpee Wampanoag "substantial control" over the land.[33]

Representation in other media[edit]

A documentary video, Mashpee (1999), describes the effect of 1970s land claims by the Wampanoag.[34]

Notable Mashpee Wampanoag people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Alanez, Tonya (21 June 2021). "Mashpee Wampanoag's young leader takes reins at tumultuous time". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  2. ^ "Trump administration revokes tribe's reservation status in 'power grab'". The Guardian. 31 March 2020.
  3. ^ Marcelo, Philip (30 March 2020). "Federal Government Revoking Reservation Status for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's 300 Acres". Time magazine. Archived from the original on 31 March 2020.
  4. ^ Rickerts, Levi (6 June 2020). "Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Wins Ruling in Federal Court Battle Over Sovereignty". Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  5. ^ Indian Country Today February 20,2021
  6. ^ Handbook of North American Indians. Chapter: "Indians of Southern New England and Long Island, late period," p. 178ff; The Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe official website Archived 19 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine; Mashpee Wampanoag Nation webpage; Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah webpage Archived 17 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "WampaGate – Glenn Marshall: There is still much to tell", Cape Cod Times, 26 August 2007.
  8. ^ a b "Former Wampanoag leader sentenced", The Boston Globe, May 8, 2009.
  9. ^ "Marshall Timeline" Archived 25 July 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Cape Cod Times, August 25, 2007
  10. ^ Bureau of Indian Affairs (22 February 2007). "Final Determination for Federal Acknowledgment of the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribal Council, Inc. of Massachusetts". Federal Register. Retrieved 2 April 2020.
  11. ^ a b "Cape tribe feels heat from lobbyist scandal" Archived 27 July 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Cape Cod Times, September 11, 2008.
  12. ^ "Fed letter demands 8 pages of tribe's letters to Abramoff, others" Archived 4 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Cape Cod Today, 9 October 2007.
  13. ^ "Cedric Cromwell elected chairman" Archived 29 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Cape Cod Times, February 2, 2009.
  14. ^ a b "Mashpee Wampanoag elders gather outside tribal headquarters yesterday, seeking information about the tribe's finances since Chairman Cedric Cromwell took over", Cape Cod Times, 24 September 2009.
  15. ^ Nellie Hicks Ramos v. Patricia Keliinui, 2009 Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Election Committee Chair, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Court, 17 January 2012.
  16. ^ a b c Kevin Horridge, "Surprise Massachusetts Casino Could Result from New Mashpee Wampanoag Land Grant",, 21 September 2015; accessed 19 January 2017
  17. ^ Levine, Elie (28 March 2020). "Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe To Lose Its Reservation, U.S. Interior Secretary Orders". WBUR News. Retrieved 28 March 2020.
  18. ^ "Trump administration revokes tribe's reservation status in 'power grab'". 31 March 2020.
  19. ^ Young, Colin A. (13 November 2020). "Wampanoag Tribe Leader Indicted for Bribery in Connection With Casino". WBUR-FM/WBUR News. State House News Service. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  20. ^ "Indian Land Options" Archived 28 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine, National Indian Gaming Commission
  21. ^ "City ends deal to sell land for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe casino" Archived 7 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Indian Gaming, 19 January 2011
  22. ^ Associated Press, "Massachusetts: Casino Bill Passes in Both Houses", The New York Times, November 15, 2011
  23. ^ Mark Arsenault, "Developers start to jockey for casino sites/Early groundwork laid in Springfield, Palmer" Archived 20 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine, The Boston Globe, 18 November 2011
  24. ^ "Pocasset Mashpee Wampanoags at odds over which tribe should get casino license for Taunton", Enterprise Press, April 18, 2012.
  25. ^ WPRI News, "Sen. Kerry to support tribe land trust" Archived 13 September 2010 at the Wayback Machine, September 8, 2010.
  26. ^ "Former Congressman Bill Delahunt to Represent the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe" Archived 17 March 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Indian Country News, 12 March 2011
  27. ^, "Wampanoag federal campaign contributions", Campaign Money, 2006.
  28. ^ "Former MA Congressman to Lobby for Tribal Casino", Casino Suite News, 11 March 2011.
  29. ^ "Mashpee Receive 321 Acres: First Trust Land Decision" Archived 20 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Indian Country Today, 18 September 2015
  30. ^ a b Sean P. Murphy, "Judge promises quick decision on challenge to Taunton casino", The Boston Globe, 11 July 2016; accessed 18 January 2017
  31. ^ a b Littlefield v. Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribe, No. 16-2484 (1st Cir. 2020)
  32. ^ Hill, Jessica (13 April 2020). "Mashpee tribe's request to halt land order to be heard May 7". Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  33. ^ Hedgpeth, Danawork=Washington Post (31 December 2021). "Wampanoag, who helped Pilgrims survive, win rights to tribal lands". Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  34. ^ Mark Ganning and Maureen McNamara, producers (Director) (1984). Mashpee. Archived from the original on 4 January 2013. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  35. ^ "Black Native Americans beginning to assert identity - the Bay State Banner". The Bay State Banner. 30 December 2014.

External links[edit]