Tribe to get a seat at MVC table

House approves bill; Senate action coming soon.

A bill was approved by the House that would give the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) a seat at the table on the Martha's Vineyard Commission. — Gabrielle Mannino

Updated March 14

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) will get a seat on the Island’s regional planning authority, righting what state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, says was an oversight on the 21-member Martha’s Vineyard Commission. The MVC was established in 1974.

A bill co-sponsored by Fernandes was approved by the House on Thursday. The bill was titled “An Act relative to indigenous representation on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.”

According to Fernandes, the number of commissioners won’t change. Instead, the governor’s appointee to the commission would now be appointed by the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal council. 

“It’s a bit crazy and a huge oversight that they didn’t include a federally recognized tribe on this commission,” Fernandes told The Times. “I’m proud that this is about expanding equity. It’s about not leaving out diverse groups, especially those that have been historically marginalized.”

It’s only right that a sovereign nation on the Island be included on the regional planning agency, Fernandes said.

Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Aquinnah Wampanoag, praised the vote. “We are so very happy that the legislation to add our voice to the MVC passed. It’s been long overdue that the tribe, as a federally recognized tribal government, receives the recognition it deserves when it comes to representation on boards, committees, and commissions, where decisions are made that will affect our lands, our community, and our tribal government,” Andrews-Maltais said. “We are so very grateful to Representative Fernandes and Senator Cyr for their support and assistance in bringing equity standing to our tribal government.”

The bill now goes to the state Senate, where Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, filed the legislation. “It doesn’t change the makeup of the MVC,” Cyr told The Times. “It just ensures there’s a voice for the federally recognized tribe on the MVC.”

Cyr said he reached out to the MVC ahead of filing the bill. He said the commission didn’t take a formal position. “I think it’s generally welcomed,” he said.
Now that it’s passed the House, Cyr said it will take a few weeks to a month for it to show up on the Senate floor. “I expect this will be seen as a routine bill, sort of like a home-rule petition,” he said.

The commission was established by legislation on March 14, 1974, to provide regulatory authority over land and water use on the Island. It was established because of “community concerns over the impacts of environmental and overall Island changes,” according to the MVC website.

The Wampanoag Tribe reached a land settlement agreement with the state in 1983 that was codified by Congress in 1987. That gave the tribe federal recognition as a sovereign nation.

The commission covers the land and waters of Dukes County with the exception of the Elizabeth Islands, Indian common lands, and properties owned by the commonwealth, according to the MVC website.

Michael Kim, a seasonal resident of Oak Bluffs, is the current governor’s appointee, according to executive director Adam Turner. Turner said Kim has been a regular at meetings, but prior to his appointment, the previous governor’s appointee rarely showed up at meetings.

Joan Malkin, chair of the MVC, declined to comment on the legislation. She did say, however, that Kim has been a solid contributor to the commission. “He’s a very conscientious commissioner,” Malkin said, noting that unlike some other governor’s appointees, he has a vested interest in the Island because of his home in O.B.

With a new governor being elected in November, Cyr said the timing is right to make the change.

Kim, who has served as the governor’s appointee for the past five years, said he just recently became aware of the legislation. “I was informed last week by the chair,” he said. “I get it. No one is going to vote against it. Once it goes through the process, I serve at the pleasure of the governor. I assume the seat will go to a member of the tribe. I get it.”

Kim said he hopes whoever takes over will be an active and contributing member of the MVC. “I understand prior to my taking the position, the governor’s appointee rarely showed up. I hope I have reset that precedent, and whoever takes my place will be an active and outspoken member, as I’ve been credited with being,” he said.

If the bill goes on to become law, Kim will no longer be eligible for the commission, as a part-time Island resident. “Should I retire here, I may do that,” he said of seeking an appointment to the commission. “I tried to make a strong contribution, and enjoyed my service on the board.”

Updated with comments from Kim -Ed.


  1. It’s about time the tribe had a place at the table! They care more about this island than anyone else, I think. I myself don’t completely understand why we are not already paying rent on their land that was stolen from them.

    • What makes you think they care more than anyone else about the island? Seems you possess a Disney version of indigenous people.

      • John– What do you mean by a “Disney version” ?
        Rather than just imply whatever it is you are implying, could you present an argument as to why they should not have a say in the significant decisions affecting the island ?
        Perhaps you think they should, but your comment seems to be a little condescending.
        Could you clarify, please ?
        I personally am amazed they didn’t have a rep there.

        • I don’t think John is saying the tribe shouldn’t have a seat on the commission. I think he’s questioning how much the tribe really cares about the island.

  2. I think it’s great to have an Indigenous person represented on this Commission though it seems misguided to have to kick another person of color who is diligent off to achieve this. Couldn’t MVC support 2 BIPOC persons? (Or ideally, more!)

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