MASHPEE - The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Thursday became a federally recognized sovereign nation, a decision that marks the end of a 32-year effort to gain such status and the beginning of a new era for tribal members.
The tribe received word at 5 pm Thursday from the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs reaffirming its March 2006 ruling that the tribe had met all seven criteria necessary to become a federally recognized tribe.
With this ruling, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe becomes the 564th tribe recognized by the federal government and the first to be recognized during the Bush Administration.
The Mashpee-based tribe is the second tribe recognized in Massachusetts. The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on Martha's Vineyard was recognized 20 years ago. Today's positive finding for Mashpee officially takes effect in 90 days. "Without recognition and with economic pressures on the Cape, our tribe would have dissolved into the landscape," said Tribal Council Chairman Glenn Marshall. "Recognition as a sovereign nation has saved the tribe that met the Mayflower."
Indian tribes recognized as sovereign nations by the federal government have access to federal funds for benefits and services, such as housing, health care, children and elder services, education and environmental protection. The tribe also plans to identify land for the federal government to take into trust.
"I have been proud to be Chief of this tribe many times in our history, and today that pride is greater than ever," said Tribal Chief Vernon "Silent Drum" Lopez. "Our story has been told for generations, and today we add a new chapter. The history of our tribe could not be complete without our sovereignty, and today we can celebrate and move forward."
Nathaniel Philbrick, author of the acclaimed book "Mayflower," offered his congratulations to the tribe and said, "This is a truly historic occasion. As a resident of the Cape and Islands who has spent many years examining the events of the past, all I can say is, 'It's about time!' Congratulations to the Mashpee Wampanoag people."
Today signals the end of the comment and approval process sparked by the March 2006 federal preliminary approval. The Mashpee tribe first sought federal recognition in 1975, but the petition did not reach "active status" until October 2005, under a court ruling stipulating a final decision must be announced by March 31, 2007.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Indians' history dates back more than 5,000 years, according to archaeologists, who acknowledge an unbroken continuum of habitation from that time to the present day. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe met the Mayflower and aided the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving in 1621 after the terrible winter of 1620-1621. Once known as the South Sea Indians and later as the Praying Indians, the Mashpee nourished the Pilgrims, came to their aid and supplied them with much of the food for the first feast. In addition to a long history of contributions to the nation, members of the Mashpee Tribe have fought in every American conflict since the Revolutionary War and continue to serve our nation heroically to the present day.
(Published: February 15, 2007)