For the Wampanoag tribe, a year of change, with more to come


The end of a year provides an opportunity for reflection. While most people draw hope and strength from future possibilities, my traditional values teach me that there is also great strength in remaining rooted to the place where you come from. So, my year-end reflection begins with some thoughts of thanks. I am thankful for our ancestors who have made us who we are as Wôpanâak; for our Homeland that we have the privilege to live on and continue to be connected with; and for the plants and the animals that continue to sustain us as they always have been willing to do. I am thankful for my family and friends who walk the path with me whether near or far away and for every kindness given, big or small, because each one is a blessing.

For many of us, at this time of year we remember our family members, friends and all those who struggle with health, work, or life-related challenges. Sadly, it is also a time to remember our beloved family members and friends who we can no longer see. We miss all of our loved ones who have journeyed on to be with Creator, especially at this time of year. I am offering good thoughts and prayers for all who have lost loved ones during the past year, and I pray that our good memories of the ones we miss provide some comfort to each of us.

Looking back on 2013, the year presented a number of challenges for all of us, and interestingly, many of the most prominent and talked about challenges we faced came at the federal level. Two challenges that had the potential to affect the tribe in a very significant way came with the implementation of funding cuts due to forced sequestration throughout the federal government and the government shutdown. These two funding related circumstances jeopardized the potential for the tribal government to operate in the short and long term. Another real challenge for the tribe was maintaining channels of communication with the people who can and should be our partners: tribal and non-tribal, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, town governments, and the Island community. Each of these challenges can be met and conquered through open communication and by building partnerships to address the challenges.

My year-end reflection, finally, turns to the hope of new beginnings in 2014. We have many opportunities before us. I am genuinely excited about all of them, and I will discuss a few of them here.

I look forward to working with our tribal council to create a vision and strategic plan for our tribal government. We will seek input from the general membership to help us identify our highest priorities and guidance for our path forward. I will also work with our tribal government on all levels to employ new ways of communicating directly with the tribal membership. With the best interest and will of the Aquinnah Wampanoag people in mind, I look forward to building and strengthening key partnerships with the governments, organizations, businesses, and individuals of the Island community. The efforts of the tribal government will bring direct benefits to our tribal members, and those benefits will continue to have a positive effect on the entire Island community. To be the evermore successful nation that I know we can be, we need allies from many areas, and all levels of government, who will partner with us and support our efforts. Active communication will allow us to tell our story and bring greater understanding.

I am profoundly thankful for the opportunity to serve the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) as tribal chairman. The tasks before us will not be accomplished without hard work. Our goals will not be achieved without challenge, but with the hope that comes with these positive opportunities there is also faith that we have the will and ability to succeed and accomplish great things for our people. With the good possibilities in mind, I pray for wisdom for our leadership, and strength, health, and prosperity for all people as we journey into 2014 together. Happy New Year.

Tobias Vanderhoop is the former tribal administrator for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and is also a former three term tribal councilman. He was elected chairman of the tribe in November 2013. His term will begin January 4, 2014.