Tribe that Saw Pilgrims Land Gets Recognition After a decades-long struggle, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Cape Cod, Mass., has won official recognition as a sovereign Native American nation. The Indians' ancestors were on shore when the Pilgrims arrived in the 1620s. The recognition brings land rights, access to federal grants — and perhaps a push for casino gambling in Massachusetts.
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Tribe that Saw Pilgrims Land Gets Recognition

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Tribe that Saw Pilgrims Land Gets Recognition

Tribe that Saw Pilgrims Land Gets Recognition

Tribe that Saw Pilgrims Land Gets Recognition

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After a decades-long struggle, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Cape Cod, Mass., has won official recognition as a sovereign Native American nation. The Indians' ancestors were on shore when the Pilgrims arrived in the 1620s. The recognition brings land rights, access to federal grants — and perhaps a push for casino gambling in Massachusetts.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Massachusetts, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Cape Cod has won federal recognition as a sovereign Native American nation. The Wampanoag are the Indians whose ancestors were on shore when the pilgrims arrived in the Mayflower. The new decision brings rights and privileges to the Indians. And as Sean Corcoran of member station WCAI reports, it has also renewed a push to allow casinos in Massachusetts.

SEAN CORCORAN: The decades-long struggle to prove itself as a tribe ended for the Mashpee Wampanoag in a small overpacked conference room with an afternoon phone call from Jim Cason at the Department of the Interior.

Mr. JIM CASON (Department of the Interior): And I'm - I'm calling to inform you about the department's decision on your application for federal acknowledgement, and based on the available evidence, I have determined that the Mashpee exists as an Indian tribe.

(Soundbite of applause)

CORCORAN: Cedric Cromwell, or Running Bear as he's known here, says federal recognition carries the promise of grant money for education, health care, and housing - what he calls hope for the future.

Mr. CEDRIC CROMWELL (Mashpee Wampanoag tribe): Everyone was feeling like, our tribe as a whole to be able to endure, and still be here. And then won this recognition, and knowing that now, it's going to be able to cement our ability to be here. It's an amazing feeling. Oh, I don't know if there's any words for it. I'm walking in cloud nine right now.

CORCORAN: To gain recognition, the tribe had to prove it's been a distinct American Indian community since before 1900. But for the past few decades, it's also been a tribe in crisis. Most members have moved off Cape Cod to less expensive areas where the economy isn't based on tourism and millionaires don't drive up housing prices. Now, recognition will bring land rights, federal grants, and the possibility of another revenue source - a resort-style casino. Slot machines and casinos are illegal in Massachusetts.

But newly elected Governor Deval Patrick has indicated he may support expanding gaming beyond the current racetracks and bingo parlors. If that happens, tribal Council Chairman Glenn Marshall says he'll be ready.

Mr. GLENN MARSHALL (Tribal Council Chairman, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe): We've always said that we wanted to be a player at the table, and now we're at the table. We are a tribe that's been recognized with no amendments or restrictions. We're looking forward to working with the governor. If there's gaming available, we'll be there.

CORCORAN: The tribe has voted not to open a casino on Cape Cod. Instead it would look to build closer to the Rhode Island border. But not every Wampanoag is convinced gambling should be pursued. As the tribe celebrated around him yesterday, 34-year-old Anwan Widen(ph) said he'd rather see the Mashpees focus on cultural education, repairing their aging museums and historic buildings.

Mr. ANWAN WIDEN (Mashpee Wampanoag tribe): Here in Mashpee, we've been doing our best over the past few hundred years to try and open our doors to the outside community, to let them understand what we're all about. And we're not heathen, bloodthirsty savages. Obviously, we're very caring individuals. We showed that to the first Pilgrims. We're still trying to show it to the people who reside in Cape Cod today.

CORCORAN: The tribe's sovereign nation status becomes permanent 90 days after it's recorded in the federal register. As for gaming in the Bay State, the governor's group is studying the issue, with a recommendation expected in about six months.

For NPR News, I'm Sean Corcoran on Cape Cod.

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