It’s no secret that towns on Martha’s Vineyard and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) have been at odds over the tribe’s pursuit of a bingo hall on reservation land in Aquinnah.
The legal battle continues in the First Circuit Court of Appeals, and the courts will ultimately decide just how much influence the towns and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission can have on the gambling hall in terms of building permits and codes. The U.S. Supreme Court, in taking a pass on a previous aspect of the case, has made it clear the tribe has the right to have a casino on its land. The only question is what, if any, role the town of Aquinnah and the Island as a whole can have in shaping what’s built.
The legal battle between the Aquinnah Wampanoag and the town over the past several years has opened old wounds. It’s a struggle that’s been going on since the late 1970s and 1980s, when Islanders worried that the tribe’s quest for land would damage property values.
The tribe settled with the town and the state in 1983, a deal that was ultimately codified by Congress in 1987, to give the tribe reservation land and, in exchange, most property owners got clear title to their land.
The towns say the tribe agreed to comply with local building permits in that agreement. The tribe contends that Indian gaming is regulated by the federal government, and those restrictions and guidelines already protect the town.
The towns — and in particular Aquinnah — have said they want to work with the tribe as neighbors. They say the latest legal maneuver isn’t about trying to block the project.
Well, there is something they could do to show, rather than tell, the tribe that they appreciate and respect the Aquinnah Wampanoag as a sovereign nation. The towns on Martha’s Vineyard could follow the lead of Mashpee, and officially recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, rather than Columbus Day, on the second Monday of October.
Earlier this year, Mashpee voted to forgo the Columbus Day holiday in favor of celebrating the people who lived in Mashpee before European settlers “discovered” America. For many in Indian Country, celebrating Columbus is providing recognition to someone who enslaved and killed their ancestors.
WCAI, the Cape and Islands radio station, and the Cape Cod Times reported on Monday’s events in Mashpee, which included drumming, singing, and tours of the town’s one-room schoolhouse. “When I had drafted the article, I had told the town this would be a great example for us to lead the way,” Mashpee Wampanoag tribe member Brian Weeden said of getting Mashpee voters on board to support the switch at a town meeting, according to WCAI. “What better town than Mashpee, the Indian plantation reservation, the little town on the Cape, to lead the way for others?”
Major cities including Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, and Washington, according to the New York Times, have also jumped ship from Christopher Columbus to honor tribes.
There are some who will see this as rewriting history. We see it as making right with history.
The Aquinnah Wampanoag’s deep and rich ties to the Island are worth honoring and celebrating. The tribe is one of only two federally recognized tribes in Massachusetts. The other one is the Mashpee Wampanoag, where this change has been adopted.
To paraphrase Brian Weeden, what better place than Martha’s Vineyard to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day rather than Columbus Day? Let’s make it happen.