The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) Sunday elected Cheryl Andrews-Maltais of Edgartown as its chairman, ousting incumbent Donald Widdiss of Chilmark.
Ms. Andrews-Maltais received 99 votes to Mr. Widdiss's 48, according to tribal secretary Eleanor Hebert. Ms. Hebert, running unopposed, was re-elected secretary with 112 votes. A total of 159 members of the tribe voted in the election.
Mr. Widdiss was first elected chairman in 1987, soon after the tribe gained federal recognition. He was seeking a fourth term as chairman, and his second consecutive term.
In an interview last week prior to the election, Ms. Andrews-Maltais, tribal historic preservation officer, said she decided to challenge Mr. Widdiss to correct what she describes as a leadership that has become distanced and detached from the membership.
Ms. Andrews-Maltais will take office on the first Saturday in January. Her election comes at a critical time for the Wampanoag Tribe. She said Monday that her first efforts will be to respond to what she described as a widespread desire by the tribe's membership for greater involvement in decision making, as the tribe charts its future course. She said that the imminence of a decision by the Massachusetts legislature whether to allow gaming in Massachusetts, as Gov. Deval Patrick has proposed, means that the question of gaming will be at the top of the tribe's agenda. Ms. Andrews-Maltais said she has not been privy to the details of the tribe's partnership agreement with the Seneca Nation of New York state to jointly pursue state permission to build a destination resort and casino in Massachusetts if the state permits gaming, but becoming familiar with the terms of that agreement will be high on her list of things to do.
Governor Patrick's willingness to support the development of as many as three casinos in Massachusetts has unleashed powerful economic and political forces surrounding the gaming issue. The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, one of two federally recognized tribes in the state, would have an advantage in the licensing process, under the formula favored by Governor Patrick.
Ms. Andrews-Maltais said economic development that will benefit tribe members in the long term is a priority, and she said she will encourage efforts to put her membership in position to take entrepreneurial advantage of business opportunities, including those that arise from gaming and resort ventures.
Ms. Andrews-Maltais ran a vigorous campaign among the tribe's approximately 1,100 members, meeting groups of members both on the Vineyard and on the mainland. She is known as an active participant in the tribe's political and cultural life. In her professional capacity, she works closely with federal and state agencies and tribes across the country on Native-American cultural affairs.
Mr. Widdiss served three terms as tribal chairman. He was first elected to the post in 1987, and reelected three years later. Beverly Wright then served as chairman, until her defeat by Mr. Widdiss in 2004. He did not return phone calls seeking comment on the results of Sunday's tribal election
Also Sunday, council members Naomi Carney and Durwood Vanderhoop were re-elected to new three-year terms. Ms. Carney received 108 votes, and Mr. Vanderhoop received 119 votes. Each ran without opposition.