Wampanoag Tribe says casino is a federal case

Erected by Air Force reservists in 2004, the unfinished community center will be converted into a class II gaming facility, if the tribe's current plan is executed. — File photo by Nelson Sigelman

In the face of a lawsuit filed by Gov. Deval Patrick on December 2 intended to block the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) from moving forward with a proposed gaming facility on Martha’s Vineyard, the tribe Monday filed the necessary paperwork to move the lawsuit from state court to federal court.

“As expected, the Patrick Administration continues to insist that the tribe has no rights to game under Federal Law,” outgoing tribe chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais said in a press release issued Monday. “As we have continuously stated, the tribe has never expressly given up our right to conduct gaming, which is why we sought and received the necessary approvals and legal opinions from the appropriate federal agencies confirming our rights. Therefore the questions raised by the lawsuit are questions of federal law, which are properly resolved in federal court.” Chairman-elect Tobias Vanderhoop said, “Our tribe has consistently maintained that we enjoy rights to game under federal law. Federal court is the appropriate venue for this case to be heard and the tribe will vigorously defend our rights.”

In the state lawsuit, Mr. Patrick is asking the Supreme Judicial Court to affirm a 1983 land settlement between the Commonwealth and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head in which the state contends the tribe forfeited its right to tribal gaming on the Island.

The settlement agreement was signed by tribal leadership in 1983 and was ratified by the state Legislature in 1985 and by Congress in 1987. The tribe said a legal analysis from the National Indian Gaming Commission provides the go-ahead to convert its long unfinished community center into a Class II gaming facility.

The town of Aquinnah takes the view, outlined by town counsel Ron Rappaport in a seven-page opinion dated April 27, 2012, that the Wampanoag Tribal Council of Gay Head Inc. cannot operate a gaming casino in Aquinnah because the lands described in the Settlement Act are subject to the zoning regulations in effect at that time.