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Old 02-15-2007, 12:37 PM   #1
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Arrow Mashpee recognition near

Mashpee recognition near:
New federal status for tribe could spur Massachusetts casino effort

By Raja Mishra, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe - 15 February 2007
http://www.boston.com/news/local/art...ognition_near/

Nearly 400 years after their ancestors befriended the Pilgrims, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is expected to win recognition today as a sovereign Native American nation, a historic designation that is likely to build momentum for efforts to bring casino gambling to Massachusetts.

The Mashpees, slaughtered and forcibly resettled by colonists, would be the second tribe recognized in Massachusetts and the first by the Bush administration, entitling the tribe to millions in federal funding for healthcare and social services. The recognition also increases pressure on Governor Deval Patrick to take a stand on gambling.

On the eve of the announcement, the Mashpee tribe said it expects to win recognition and has already made arrangements for a celebration. Tribal officials said they will seek to persuade Patrick to authorize a casino.

But Patrick has said he will not make a decision for at least six months, awaiting recommendations from an internal study group he recently named. State lawmakers would have to approve any gambling expansion, and they are expected once again to debate the issue this year on Beacon Hill, where slot machine bills have failed several sessions running.

The tribe's representatives were clear yesterday that they have big ambitions: a glitzy gaming center with a wide array of gambling, betting, and entertainment, probably situated somewhere south of Boston. "They will look at a destination-type casino along the lines of Mohegan Sun," said tribe spokesman Scott Ferson, referring to the massive gambling complex in Connecticut.

Any casino would have to be built on tribal land, either in the Cape Cod town of Mashpee, the tribe's ancestral home, or on land the tribe would buy. The federal government would have to approve the purchase, and it would have to be within 50 miles of Mashpee, a radius that stretches north to Quincy and west to Attleboro and the Rhode Island border. The tribe has said it will not seek casinos on Cape Cod.

While casinos would be the biggest impact of federal recognition of the tribe for many Bay State residents, recognition is fraught with much more emotion for the Mashpees, after a three-decade quest.

Native Americans have long been frustrated by the federal government's refusal to recognize the Mashpee Wampanoags, a tribe deeply interwoven with American history, yet deprived of official status. After a promising cooperation immortalized by the Thanksgiving holiday, the Wampanoags were later slaughtered in combat with English settlers, and many survivors were forced to settle in Mashpee, where about 1,500 members of the Mashpee branch remain.

"What took so long?," said Kevin Gover, an Arizona State law professor and a former assistant secretary of Indian affairs in the Clinton administration. "This is clearly a tribe and has always been a tribe. This is a community that federal Indian policy has failed."

The US Bureau of Indian Affairs would not confirm the decision yesterday. Spokeswoman Nedra Darling would only say that the tribe would receive a phone call from the agency today at 5 p.m.

But approval appears all but certain. The tribe cleared the most daunting hurdle last March by winning preliminary recognition from the federal government, following a lengthy process in which the tribe had to present evidence that convinced officials that it was a cohesive and genuine tribe with distinct customs. In the 11 months since, a period designated for public comment, no one has disputed the Mashpees' case, and the bureau is announcing its decision a month early.

The path to casinos after recognition is complex. The tribe must take control of its ancestral land through a trust held by the federal government. It can also buy land within a 50-mile radius, considered part of the area the tribe historically roamed.

Though the tribe would be considered a sovereign nation, it cannot violate state laws. Massachusetts currently permits bingo, the lottery, and table games such as poker and blackjack within strict limits. But slot machines, by far the main revenue source for casinos, remain illegal.

To open a full-service casino, the tribe must negotiate a gambling rights compact with Patrick, subject to ratification by the Legislature, which would also have to pass legislation specifically legalizing slot machines. Governor Mitt Romney opposed gambling expansion, but Patrick's administration has signaled more flexibility.

"It's a more open-minded look. It's not a position yet, but we are open-minded," said state Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Daniel O'Connell, who is leading the administration's study group. Though casinos could bring millions to state coffers, Patrick expressed concern about the negative consequences of gambling during the campaign, and O'Connell said those remain a worry.

"Gambling has negative social impacts in public health, in compulsive and addictive behavior," he said in a telephone interview yesterday. "We need to make sure there will be a true, significant net benefit for the Commonwealth."

But state Representative Daniel E. Bosley, a North Adams Democrat and a leading casino opponent, said the Mashpees face a tough battle on Beacon Hill.

"I just don't think there's an appetite here for casinos," he said. "The sentiment, in the House at least, is that we're not going to expand gaming."

Gover also said that tribal recognition has not, in recent history, reversed existing political sentiment. "I can't think of a single place where recognition has led to gambling legislation," he said.

Nonetheless, Ferson said the tribe is optimistic because "the Patrick administration has indicated they are more willing to explore gambling."

The decision marks another significant turn in the history of a storied tribe. For hundreds of years before the Pilgrims arrived, the Wampanoag, which means "people of first light" in their language, roamed the area on and around Cape Cod.

That all changed in 1620, when the Pilgrims arrived. Relations were wary, but the two sides did share the historic Thanksgiving feast of 1621. Then followed years of conflict, culminating in 1675 with King Philip's War, in which the Wampanoags lost badly. Though the tribe once numbered about 12,000, only 400 survived, some settling in Mashpee, others on Martha's Vineyard.

The Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head on Martha's Vineyard is the only other recognized tribe in Massachusetts. The group has unsuccessfully pursued casinos over the last two decades.
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