I live in a village on Cape Cod next to the town of Mashpee, an interesting place that was regarded as somewhat backward when I was young in the 1960, a run down town without a high school or much in the way of development, just a lot of scrub pines and oaks, ponds and bays, with a big high end golf community on the oceanside.
As I grew older I learned that Mashpee was the Cape home for the “praying Indians”, those members of the Wampanoag tribe that had converted to Christianity in the 17th century. Their church, or meetinghouse, is about two miles from my house. In the 1920s, one Red Shell, “Cape Cod Indian Historian” wrote a series of historical articles in a local newspaper. Of the meetinghouse he wrote:
“Shearjashub Bourne, a white man, purchased from Chief Quachatisset of the Mashpee village in 1684, a tract of land which is now Mashpee Centre. In payment, he agreed to construct a house of worship in the fashion of the white man for the Wampanoags of Mashpee. He built the church at Bryant’s Neck; near Santuit Pond. The Wampanoags of the upper Cape offered prayer there to the Great Spirit until 1717, when it was moved to Indian Hill, where it has remained ever since. There is an open register within the church where tourists from all parts of the world have inscribed their names and the dates of their visits.”
While the church has stood there since 1717, the descendants of Chief Quachatisset have not been recognized as members of the Wampanoag tribe until this week.
I won’t go into the history of Mashpee. I feel it is outrageous the way the tribe and its descendants have been treated over the past three hundred years, caught up in court and screwed in the typical cliche of land screwings that seem to bedevil every native American tribe.
Well, now they are official, and that means they are, in fact, a sovereign nation. Now the neighborhood is holding its breath, concerned that a casino could come into town sometime soon, a reasonable fear given that this piece of information in the Cape Cod Times this morning:
“Herb Strather, a Detroit real estate and casino developer, is leading the pack of outside investors. Strather has given the tribe $15 million since 1999. It’s not known exactly how the money has been used. That’s one of the reasons prompting a lawsuit filed by four Wampanoag, who are suing the tribe to make financial records public. In particular, the plaintiffs want to know exactly how much money Strather gave the tribe to help secure federal recognition.
Strather’s contribution to the tribe doesn’t come without a price.
”It certainly forces the tribe to give up some of their economic sovereignty to some degree,” said Gavin Clarkson, an assistant professor of Native American studies at the University of Michigan.”