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Federal Recognition
Lobbying activities helped tribe bolster recognition

The lobbying activities of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts, whose leaders hired associates of Jack Abramoff, were used as evidence in the tribe's federal recognition bid.

Frustrated with the slow pace on the tribe's petition, Chairman Glenn Marshall hired the Greenberg Traurig firm in 2003 to lobby on "recognition and sovereignty" matters. Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to defrauding tribal clients and attempting to bribe a member of Congress, never worked directly on the Mashpee case, according to Senate records.

Within a year of bringing on the firm, however, the tribe saw action in Washington. Key members of Congress, like Rep. Richard Pombo (R-California), the powerful chairman of the House Resources Committee, began pushing the federal government to resolve the matter. The tribe, whose petition was filed in 1975, was held up as a poster child for the delays associated with the recognition process.

"That in my mind is beyond any bureaucratic mess-up," Pombo said at an April 2004 hearing at which Marshall testified.

In the course of the tribe's 300-plus-year history with outsiders that began when the Mashpee met the Mayflower in 1621, the use of lobbyists registers just a small blip. But in the eyes of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, it was evidence of a distinct tribal community from historical times to the present, as well as tribal political influence, two of the key criteria for recognition.

The proposed finding issued by the BIA last Friday tied the hiring of lobbyists to a long-running dispute between the "traditionalists" and "non-traditionalists" of the tribe. Marshall was criticized by Paula Peters, a leader of the traditional group, for spending money in Washington, including making campaign contributions to politicians like Pombo.

"In 2005, the traditionalists became outspoken critics of the incorporated council's efforts to hire lobbyists to help in the quest for federal acknowledgment, and also ran an almost successful write-in candidacy against Glenn Marshall, the sitting president," the BIA wrote in the document.

This was evidence of a continuous tribal community because the traditional/non-traditional split dates back to the 1900s, and even as far back as the late 1800s, the BIA said. The two factions have disagreed on the tribe's approach on land claims, fishing rights, land sales and other internal tribal matters.

"Group involvement is additionally expressed through a historically recognized political division within its membership of 'traditionals' and 'non-traditionals,'" the proposed finding stated.

The BIA further agreed that the lobbyist chapter in the tribe's history was evidence of political influence or authority, another criteria for recognition. As one example, Marshall used the tribe's internal political processes to gain support for his leadership by asking the elders' council for a vote of confidence as the Abramoff controversy made national news.

The dispute was the subject of several local news reports on Cape Cod as a decision on the recognition petition approached. Peters published an opinion piece that documented her disagreements with Marshall and Vernon Lopez, the tribe's traditional chief who appeared at Marshall's side during the announcement of the favorable ruling.

Along with other evidence, such as regular tribal meetings, social-political gatherings, internal disputes and continuous self-governance dating back to the 1600s, these actions helped the tribe meet the political influence test. "Within the incorporated council, leadership is multifaceted including both traditional as well as business positions," the proposed finding states. "During this period, informal leadership within the group also existed along with the authority of the incorporated council."

The Mashpee case appears to be the first time that lobbying activities have been mentioned in a recognition decision. Interior Department officials, however, say the process isn't unduly influenced by the big sums of money being spent on all sides of the debate.

Earl Devaney, the department's inspector general, has criticized the process as not being open enough to people affected by the BIA's decisions. But at a House hearing in June 2004, he said federal recognition is "actually one of the more transparent processes at Interior."

To view Mashpee lobbying records, visit the Senate Office of Public Records at and enter "Mashpee" as the "Client Name."

BIA Decision
Summary under the Criteria for the Proposed Finding on the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribal Council, Inc. (March 31, 2006)

Relevant Documents:
Summary of Acknowledgment Cases | R. Lee Fleming Declaration

Only on Indianz.Com:
Federal Recognition Database V2.0 (May 2005)

Relevant Links:
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe -