On Sunday, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) elected Cheryl Andrews-Maltais as its chairman, replace the outgoing Tobias Vanderhoop. Ms. Andrews-Maltais ran against Don Widdiss for the post; both candidates had previously held the title tribal chairman. Several other leadership positions were also filled.
The results were described in an email to The Times on Monday. A total of 190 ballots were counted. With 115 votes, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais has again become chairman after a three-year absence. Donald Widdiss received 67 votes and, although he had declined to run again, Tobias Vanderhoop received five. Eleanor Hebert was elected secretary by a wide margin over two opponents. Naomi Carney and Kristina Hook will join the tribal council. Incumbent Shelley Carter did not retain her seat.
The winner of the contest for chairman replaced Mr. Vanderhoop, who was elected in November 2013, defeating Ms. Andrews-Maltais. Elections, which are held every three years, are open to all members of the tribe, who numbered 1,289 in 2015, 315 of whom live on Martha’s Vineyard. Most of the rest of the members live in eastern Massachusetts. The balloting was preceded by a tribal council meeting on Wed. Nov. 17, which was open only to members of the tribe.
The two candidates for chairman this year had different perspectives on the issue of building a casino in Aquinnah. Whether or not to turn the unfinished community center into a Class II gaming facility is the central issue for the tribe. In May 2011, in a sparsely advertised ballot the Wampanoags of Gay Head (Aquinnah) voted to turn the building into a casino. A second ballot, held one year later, saw the same result, but with a narrower margin in favor. Ms. Andrews-Maltais was the tribal chairman at the time and has been a strong proponent of the casino. She could not be reached for comment before the election. In an interview the day before the tribal election Mr. Widdiss said of the tribe’s efforts to have a casino at Aquinnah, “It’s our responsibility to look at every opportunity. We have to assess its viability. Until it’s a real opportunity, we have to pursue assessment.”
In November 2015 U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV ruled that the Wampanoags should not be allowed to develop a Class II casino at Aquinnah because the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), signed in 1988, does not trump the Settlement Act, signed by tribal leadership in 1983 and ratified by the state legislature in 1985 and by Congress in 1987. That agreement stipulated that the tribe was subject to local and state laws and zoning regulations in effect at the time, and has formed the bedrock of the longstanding legal relationship between the tribe and the rest of Martha’s Vineyard.
The tribe has repeatedly contested rulings in favor of the town of Aquinnah and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the casino/gaming issue remains unresolved.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story reported that Shelley Carter had retained her seat and Carol Ann Vandal had been elected. Only Kristina Hook and Naomi Carney received enough votes to win the two available seats.