Earlier in July of 2015, Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head tribal officials announced that they planned 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. People will not be flocking from across the country to visit this casino, instead of visiting Twin River, Newport, Wynn Boston Harbor or the CT casinos.
But the tribe was ordered by a federal judge to stop the construction of a building located on Martha’s Vineyard. Why?
1) the tribe started construction work without acquiring the necessary building permit, and 2) under certain zoning restrictions, a casino venue is prohibited from being opened there.
Also, according to local officials, the tribe forfeited its right to offer gaming on their land when they signed a land settlement agreement in 1983, an act that subjects them to state and local laws.
In order to prevent the tribe from proceeding with its plan, Aquinnah officials had filed an injunction to the U.S. District Court. Scott D. Crowell, lawyer for the Aquinnah Wampanoag, argued that authorities’ jurisdiction over the tribe is limited. In addition, under the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, (five years after the initial land settlement agreement) the tribe has the right to run a gambling property on reservation land and it cannot be denied that right or at least not by the town. In other words, they cannot ban the project.
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?
Well, that could be changing.
According to NECN, that gambling hall on Martha’s Vineyard gained a second life Tuesday after a federal appeals court reversed a lower court decision blocking the long-sought project.
“The decision made public Tuesday ruled the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe exercises sufficient government powers on its lands to be considered a sovereign tribal nation that can conduct limited gambling under federal law without seeking local approvals. ……Supporters within the tribe have countered that casino revenues, which tribal leaders have suggested could be as much as $4.5 million a year, would allow their government to offer more critical services where the majority of its citizens live off island, in parts of southeastern Massachusetts near the Rhode Island state line.”
Tribal nation sovereignty has been given a boost, as it should.