Taunton Vs. Mashpee Wampanoag Casino – More “Pride or Prejudice?”

330px-PrideAndPrejudiceTitlePagePride and Prejudice is a novel of manners by Jane Austen, first published in 1813. The story follows the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, & education among others.

Is there a parallel between Indian affairs in New England? Maybe only in the title.

This past week, property owners in Taunton who are attempting to block the Mashpee Wampanoag from building a $1 billion casino are pushing their legal challenge. The group asked a court to halt construction on the project, “First Light,” temporarily. If granted by a judge, an injunction would force the tribe to halt construction until the lawsuit is resolved, which could take years.

First Light

First Light Resort Casino

Why? When Native Tribes across the country are being allowed to thrive and raise the quality of life for their communities, why is New England seemingly so anti-Native American?

The suit contends federal officials acted unlawfully when granting the Mashpee reservation status, referring to the federal government acting unlawfully when it approved the tribe’s request to designate the Taunton property as a sovereign reservation, clearing the way for a casino.

New England Tribes locations at the time of King Phillips War

New England Tribes locations at the time of King Phillips War

Sean P. Murphy of the Boston Globe reports that “Tribal leaders say they have the full weight of the US government behind them, including the Justice Department to defend the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ decision. So far, no court has granted an injunction to halt construction of a tribal casino.”  Mal

Is there a deeper problem in New England, an anti-tribal sentiment that has brewing underneath the surface all along?  Is it casino expansion that is the concern or “tribal-casino” casino expansion.

Tribal gaming continues to grow around the country, as Native Tribes increasingly make their presence as a major factor in state revenue. Growth is still limited in some states due to regulations restricting tribal casino expansion beyond reservations. The federal government recognizes 566 tribal governments within the United States. By all accounts, the process by which tribal entities apply for and attain—or are rejected from—federal recognition is cumbersome.

Example 1 – Connecticut

Eastern Pequot Tribal Members

Eastern Pequot Tribal Members

Connecticut has become a battle ground of late between tribes seeking federal recognition and lawmakers who say this status would diminish local and state tax revenues, lead to land claims and expand Indian gaming. Spurred on by instigation-savvy MGM, MGM Springfield is still in the process of suing Connecticut for it’s third casino interest with a joint venture between two federally recognized tribes within Connecticut—the Mashantucket Pequot and the Mohegan Indian Tribe. The state recognizes the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, the True Golden Hill Paugussett Indian Nation and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, but legislators like them Senator Blumenthal and Govenor Malloy have consistently lobbied against federal recognition, which would open federal sovereignty.

Schaghticoke

Chief Velkey at Press Conference, Courtesy of Schaghticoke Press.

Members of the Schaghticoke tribe began their petition for federal recognition in 1981. They underwent a rigorous, 23-year process and were finally federally recognized in 2004. Just a year later, their recognition was taken away.  Now they are partners in the MGM law suit.

Against Casino Expansion or Tribal Casino Expansion?

Here’s another example – the state of Maine.

Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians Tribal Offices

Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians Tribal Offices

Maine has two casino, one in Bangor and one in Oxford.  Both are privately owned. Legislature has heard and voted down a bill for a third privately owned casino in York County.  Yet, The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians in the northern most county have been trying to get a casino into Aroostook County for years.  Several other casinos proposals have been made over the years by multiple Indian tribes, but with little success.

Representatives of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians felt that after the defeat of their casinos proposals last session, the study concerning the possible fertile growth for more Maine casinos gave them hope. That survey found that a smaller facility could be built in Aroostook or Washington County, with preference given to the tribes to operate it. Both are in the Northern most part of Maine, yet Oxford and struggling Hollywood fought vehemently against it.

Against Casino Expansion or Tribal Casino Expansion?

Next Example – Massachusetts.

Wampanoag Community Center and Future Bingo Hall not allowed.

Wampanoag Community Center and Future Bingo Hall not allowed.

Earlier in July, Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head tribal officials announced that they plan to convert an unfinished community center on the island into a gambling venue. Let’s be real, this is not a world-class casino proposal. The building, which spreads over 6,500 square feet, is located on Aquinnah Wampanoag reservation land, was intended to be a Class II Bingo hall.

But the tribe was ordered by a federal judge to stop the construction of a building located on Martha’s Vineyard.  In November, 2015, the U.S. District Court  said the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) cannot turn its long-unused community center into a gambling hall, saying, ” “….the tribe has not met its burden of demonstrating that it exercises sufficient ‘governmental power’ over the settlement lands, and therefore IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) does not apply.”

Mashpees Wampanoag Tribal Emblem

Mashpees Wampanoag Tribal Emblem

So, is the latest red tape by the Taunton group just another example of the hypocrisy of state, federal & tribal relations in New England? Is it moralilly right to hold any group back in need of a better life – economically, educationally,  and a better quality of life.

States continuously add casinos for their own financial improvement of life under the hope of more revenue to solve economic problems – shouldn’t others in those states deserve the same chance?

Binbin

 

 

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