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Mashpee tribe wins federal recognition

Status likely to fuel push for a casino

By Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / February 16, 2007

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The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe won federal recognition yesterday as a sovereign Native American nation, capping a 32-year legal battle that probably will intensify efforts to bring casino gambling to Massachusetts.

Glenn Marshall , tribal council chairman, answered the phone at 5:10 p.m. and put the call from the Bureau of Indian Affairs on speaker so two dozen tribal elders could hear the news, said Scott Ferson , tribe spokesman. Outside tribal headquarters on Cape Cod, 500 people waited in a tent ready to celebrate.

"It was something that was thoroughly expected," Ferson said in a telephone interview, "but then in the moment, it carried great suspense."

The federal government acknowledged that the Mashpees had existed as a distinct community since the 1620s. Their ancestors befriended the Pilgrims 400 years ago and, according to tradition, participated in the first Thanksgiving, in 1621.

The recognition of 1,453 tribal members makes them eligible for millions in federal benefits and could open the door to a casino in Massachusetts. The tribe has already made it clear it would like to build a gaming center south of Boston, a move that would have to be approved by state lawmakers. Federal recognition increases the pressure on Governor Deval Patrick , who has appointed a study group to give him recommendations on gambling in about six months.

Patrick telephoned the tribal council to extend his congratulations moments after Marshall received the news, Ferson said. The governor and the tribal council chairman agreed to further talks as the Mashpees begin taking land into trust, Ferson said. They did not discuss casinos or gambling, he said.

"For a tribe that greeted the Pilgrims when they landed on the shores of Massachusetts, this recognition is long overdue," Patrick said in a statement. "I look forward to working with the tribe to move Massachusetts forward."