Today, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's federal recognition becomes
final. Glenn Marshall, the chairman of the tribe, submitted the following to thank the people who helped the tribe on its long road to recognition.
I have the honor of serving as the Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe. To some, we are known as the “Praying Indians” because of our establishment of and devotion to the oldest Christian church on Cape Cod. To others, we are known by the acts of our individual members; Crispus Attucks was the first casualty of the Revolutionary War and a Mashpee Indian. But as the tribe that met the Pilgrims disembarking from the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock some 400 years ago, we are commemorated in some small way each November in homes all across our United States.
Our ancestors’ decision to welcome the Pilgrims to their “new world”, the land our forefathers had inhabited for 5,000 years, enriched the history of our tribe despite the difficulties it would bring. We are proud to have been part of this important event in American history.
Today, however, marks a day of even greater importance in the life and history of our tribe. Nearly 400 years after the first Thanksgiving, the Mashpee Wampanoag today officially becomes the 563rd federally recognized Indian tribe in the United States.
Our journey has not been an easy one. We had to fight, crawl, and scratch – and their modern equivalents, lobby, sue, and appeal – all the way to the end. Yet we never doubted the importance of this struggle for justice nor did we stand alone throughout the decades of neglect.
And so today, we pause to thank those who helped us get to this day, who supported and encouraged us along the way. Our victory is their victory. Our joy is their joy. And our tears today are only for those that didn’t live to see the success they worked so hard to achieve.
First, we express our appreciation and admiration to our tribal elders. They started the initial campaign for recognition in 1932. A little over 40 years later, another generation of tribal leaders renewed the fight. Too many died before witnessing this day, but they will never be forgotten. We walk on their shoulders.
Our current tribal council and members deserve our gratitude for working together. Our disagreements never distracted us from the primary task at hand. We strongly thank our legal and governmental professionals who advised us over the course of the past 30 years.
We are grateful to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The commonwealth has always recognized the Mashpee and many of its leaders, including Governor Deval Patrick, were among the first to call after we received our final determination.
We express our appreciation to the Town of Mashpee and its good people for helping us move beyond historical grudges and setting a new course of cooperation. There can be little doubt that the best days lie ahead for our beloved town.
Lastly, and perhaps surprisingly to some, we thank the federal government. We strongly believe in the promise and ideals of this country. In fact, our sons and daughters have fought on her behalf in every conflict since the Revolutionary War. That’s why it was so painful to have our status as a sovereign nation called in to question. However, we recognize that most federal officials were doing their job honestly and as best they could. That we were forced to wait decades for our decision is not evidence of bad will, but of a broken process that must be reformed.
And so, today, our adversary has become our partner and trustee. Since receiving our final determination three months ago, Mashpee tribal leaders and program managers have met with representatives in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service, U.S. Department of Transportation, and other agencies to begin the process of obtaining overdue federal services for the tribe.
The most notable aspect of our interactions is the genuine enthusiasm displayed by those officials with whom we have met. All have been eager to apply their expertise and insights to meet the substantial needs of our tribal members.
For too long, we have had to fight our government, including some of these very same agencies. Today, both sides have put the conflicts of the past aside and are working together to improve the health, safety, and welfare of our community. We need this cooperation because there is so much work to be done.
Like any other government, the first priority of the Mashpee government will be to protect its people. However, our primary foes are not outside invaders, they are internal threats, such as poor health, brought on by years of neglect. Federal recognition will allow us to increase opportunities for better health, housing, and education, and we intend to do just that.
In the coming days, months, and years, we hope to create a strong government that brings honor not only to our forefathers, but to the ideals of tribal self-determination and sovereignty. We are excited to both assume the responsibilities and enjoy the rights that spring from the administration of a federally recognized government. In this regard, we have much to learn from our sister tribes across Indian Country and we hope you will continue to share your wisdom and counsel with us as we find our way.
Despite our tribe’s rich history, today is a day for looking ahead, for dreaming boldly about the future and how we have the opportunity and responsibility to make life better for our children. Yet, as we stand on the precipice of a new dawn, we wanted to pause to acknowledge those that allow us to dream. Nearly 400 years after the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe finally has cause for a day of thanksgiving.
| Summary of
| R. Lee Fleming
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