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The Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribal Council, Inc., formerly known as the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, 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 tribe is the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on Martha's Vineyard.

Mashpee Wampanoag
Indian Tribal Council, Inc.
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 United States ( Massachusetts)
English, Wampanoag
traditional tribal religion
Related ethnic groups
other Wampanoag people

In 2014 the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe consists of more than 2600 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.



Indigenous peoples lived on Cape Cod for at least ten thousand years. The historic Algonquian-speaking Wampanoag were the native people encountered by the English colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the seventeenth century. The Wampanoag also controlled considerable coastal area. They were one of the several Algonquian-speaking tribes in what are now considered Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The Wampanoag and English (later European Americans) interacted and shaped each other's cultures for centuries, with intermarriage also taking place.

English colonists began to settle the area of present-day Mashpee, Massachusetts in 1658 with the assistance of the missionary Richard Bourne, from the neighboring town of Sandwich. In 1660 the colonists "allowed" those Wampanoag who had converted to Christianity about 50 square miles (130 km2) in the English settlement. Beginning in 1665, the Wampanoag governed themselves with a court of law and trials according to English custom (they had long governed themselves according to their own customs). Such a settlement was referred to by the English as a "praying town."

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 and the Nauset 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, mass-nippe: mass meaning "great", or "greater" (see Massachusetts), and nippe meaning "water." The name has been translated as "the greater cove" or "great pond," or "land near great cove", where the water being referenced is Wakeby Lake, which is greater at one end.

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 town 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.

Nineteenth-century restrictions and land lossEdit

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.[1]

In 1870 the state approved the incorporation of Mashpee as a Town. It was the second-to-last jurisdiction on the Cape to undergo the process. With European Americans dominating town government, ultimately the Wampanoag lost control of most of the their land and self-government. Many of their descendants have remained in the area and some worked on whaling and other ships that operated from Cape and other Massachusetts ports. They continued to identify as Mashpee Wampanoag by their common culture. They absorbed new members from marriages and mixed-race children as they formed unions with neighbors.

20th centuryEdit

Beginning in the 1970s, the Mashpee Wampanoag worked to reorganize in order to use its political power; it sought recognition as a tribe by the federal government. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council was established 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. 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.

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 centuryEdit

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.[2]

Marshall was 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.[3][4] Marshall had steered tens of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to politicians through the tribe's hired lobbyist Jack Abramoff.[3] 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.

The Mashpee Tribe gained formal federal recognition as a tribe in 2007. 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.[5] In 2008 Ring was indicted and convicted on federal corruption charges linked to his work for the Mashpee band.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7] A challenge to Cromwell's election by defeated candidates, following allegations of tampering with voting and enrollment records, was filed with the Tribal Court.[8]

Cromwell's administration has been hampered by a series of protest by Elders over casino-related finances.[8][9]

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."[10]

In September 2015 the Department of Interior took into trust 170 acres (0.69 km2) in Mashpee as a reservation for the Wampanoag, who already controlled the land. They also took into trust for the Mashpee 150 acres (0.61 km2) in Taunton, Massachusetts on the mainland.[10] 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."[10]


The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council has established criteria for enrollment as a member. The 2012 amended ordinance is at "Enrollment Amended Ordinance and 09 2012 Amendment". The tribe requires that a person be able to document descent from recognized members, and it requires persons to live in or near Mashpee, and to be active in the tribe.

Land and casinoEdit

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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13] The Wampanoag were given a "headstart" to develop plans for a casino in southeastern part of the state.[14]

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.[15] 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,[16] Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and former Massachusetts Congressman Bill Delahunt, who is working as a lobbyist to represent the casino project.[17] Both Kerry and Delahunt received campaign contributions from the Wampanoag Tribe in transactions authorized by Glenn Marshall.[18][19] Marshall was later implicated in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

The tribe applied to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to have its land taken into trust; with that approval, the tribe would have jurisdiction over the Taunton parcel. In September 2015 the BIA approved the taking of 321 acres of land into federal trust for the initial reservation for the Mashpee Wampanoag; this included 170 acres of land it already controlled in Mashpee and the 150 acres acquired in Taunton.[20]

The Department of Interior action was challenged by a suit filed in February 2016 in United States District Court by a group of Taunton property owners, opponents to Mashpee Wampanoag plans to build a gaming casino on their land in Taunton. They challenged the land-into-trust deal, citing Carcieri v. Salazar (2009), a US Supreme Court decision saying 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. Judge William G. Young promised a quick decision in July, but the case could take years to resolve. "Lawyers for the Interior Department asked Young to consider what Congress intended when enacting the 1934 law based on statements made by lawmakers at the time."[21][10]

Both sides asserted their intention to appeal if the decision was unfavorable to them. The Mashpee Wampanoag began development of the Taunton site, demolishing existing structures, despite the court challenge.[21]

Representation in other mediaEdit

A documentary video, Mashpee (1999), describes the effect of 1970s land claims by the Wampanoag.[22]


  1. ^ Handbook of North American Indians. Chapter: "Indians of Southern New England and Long Island, late period," p. 178ff; The Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe official website; Mashpee Wampanoag Nation webpage; Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah webpage
  2. ^ "WampaGate – Glenn Marshall: There is still much to tell", Cape Cod Times, 26 August 2007.
  3. ^ a b "Former Wampanoag leader sentenced", The Boston Globe, May 8, 2009.
  4. ^ "Marshall Timeline" Archived 25 July 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Cape Cod Times, August 25, 2007
  5. ^ a b "Cape tribe feels heat from lobbyist scandal" Archived 27 July 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Cape Cod Times, September 11, 2008.
  6. ^ "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.
  7. ^ "Cedric Cromwell elected chairman" Archived 29 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Cape Cod Times, February 2, 2009.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Nellie Hicks Ramos v. Patricia Keliinui, 2009 Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Election Committee Chair, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Court, 17 January 2012.
  10. ^ a b c d Kevin Horridge, "Surprise Massachusetts Casino Could Result from New Mashpee Wampanoag Land Grant",, 21 September 2015; accessed 19 January 2017
  11. ^ "Indian Land Options" Archived 28 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine, National Indian Gaming Commission
  12. ^ "City ends deal to sell land for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe casino" Archived 7 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Indian Gaming, 19 January 2011
  13. ^ Associated Press, "Massachusetts: Casino Bill Passes in Both Houses", The New York Times, November 15, 2011
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ "Pocasset Mashpee Wampanoags at odds over which tribe should get casino license for Taunton", Enterprise Press, April 18, 2012.
  16. ^ WPRI News, "Sen. Kerry to support tribe land trust" Archived 13 September 2010 at the Wayback Machine, September 8, 2010.
  17. ^ "Former Congressman Bill Delahunt to Represent the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe", Indian Country News, 12 March 2011
  18. ^, "Wampanoag federal campaign contributions", Campaign Money, 2006.
  19. ^ "Former MA Congressman to Lobby for Tribal Casino", Casino Suite News, 11 March 2011.
  20. ^ "Mashpee Receive 321 Acres: First Trust Land Decision", Indian Country Today, 18 September 2015
  21. ^ a b Sean P. Murphy, "Judge promises quick decision on challenge to Taunton casino", The Boston Globe, 11 July 2016; accessed 18 January 2017
  22. ^ Mark Ganning and Maureen McNamara, producers (Director) (1984). Mashpee. Archived from the original on 4 January 2013. Retrieved 3 December 2012.

External linksEdit