Cheryl Andrews-Maltais serves as chairwoman of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe. Photo Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe still working on casino after court victory

The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe is still working on plans for a casino after securing a major court victory.

The tribe had hoped to open a Class II facility on its reservation in Massachusetts sometime this summer. Although that date has slipped, Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais told The Vineyard Gazette that gaming is still on the agenda.

“We continue to work on our gaming initiative, establishing the necessary framework to keep us moving forward," Andrews-Maltais told told the paper. "As soon as appropriate, we will be happy to provide a much more detailed update.”

The tribe has long faced opposition to a casino due to a strict interpretation of its land claim settlement. State and local officials contended the law subjected the tribe to their laws and their jurisdiction.

But the federal courts have now determined otherwise. The ruling came after key federal agencies, during the Obama administration, supported the tribe's sovereign rights.

The tribe still can't offer Class III gaming, such as slot machines, unless it reaches an agreement with the state. Negotiations, if there have been any, have not been reported despite the legal win.

But Andrews-Maltais told The Gazette that the tribe remains interested in pursuing a casino on the mainland. The idea has been on the table for decades but state officials, believing their faulty interpretation of the land claim settlement was correct, have long ignored it.

Class III gaming otherwise is legal in Massachusetts. The state has entered into a compact with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, whose gaming plans on the mainland remain in limbo due to litigation, which could force the Trump administration to do something unprecedented -- take the tribe's trust land out of trust.

A bipartisan bill in Congress would prevent that from happening. The House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs is holding a hearing next week on H.R.5244, also known as the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act.

"Such bi-partisanship is proof of the urgency that our rightful place in history remains intact and our land remains in trust," Chairman Cedric Cromwell said in a message to tribal citizens on Wednesday. He will be testifying at the July 24 hearing.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is based in Mashpee, on the mainland. The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe is based in Aquinnah, on the island of Martha's Vineyard.

Read More on the Story:
Casino Gambling Allowed, But All Quiet on Western Front (The Vineyard Gazette July 19, 2018)
Mashpee chairman to testify before Congress on Taunton casino land bill (The Taunton Daily Gazette July 19, 2018)
Congressional committee taking up Mashpee tribal bill (The Cape Cod Times July 19, 2018)
Taunton mayor reaffirms support for tribe (The Cape Cod Times July 19, 2018)

An Opinion:
Editorial: Realpolitik In Mashpee (The Mashpee Enterprise July 20, 2018)

1st Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Massachusetts v. Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) (April 11, 2017)

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