Tribe Welcomes Support for land in Trust


In the wake of the federal government’s decision to rule against the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the Mashpees have had a few moments in the limelight recently, both in the pop culture world and the national tribal community.

Tribal leaders and drum group Eastern Suns opened a concert for alternative pop band Portugal. The Man at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion in Boston on Sunday, September 23, in front of a crowd of thousands.

Also, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council, leaders of the tribe that reached the nation’s consciousness through the protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016, passed a resolution in support of the Mashpee tribe in early September.

Both events have garnered awareness for the passage of HR 5244, legislation currently in committee on the US House of Representatives that, if passed, would overrule a court decision and protect the tribe’s reservation in both Taunton and Mashpee.

After the federal government granted the tribe land in trust in 2015, a group of East Taunton residents protested the decision, saying the government overreached its authority. The East Taunton residents have since won a key federal court ruling that threatens the tribe’s reservation—although HR 5244, if passed, could override that decision.

In addition to gaining national attention, the tribe has also announced a “Land Sovereignty Walk and Rally” scheduled for Saturday, October 6, starting at the Mashpee Community Park near town hall and ending at the Powwow Grounds on Great Neck Road South on the other side of town. The rally will culminate with internationally known indigenous-rights speakers, although no names have been announced as of Wednesday, September 26. All are invited.

The members of Portugal. The Man, a band known for its hit “Feel It Still,” are originally from an Alaskan town that has its own native tribe. As explained by tribal members present for the Sunday’s concert, the group tries to invite tribes among local communities during stops on its tour to their shows, in an effort to bring awareness to their struggles. The band is an alternative pop group that has toured around the world. Its hit “Feel It Still” has 180 million views on YouTube.

In a last-minute arrangement, the band reached out to the Mashpee tribe to join them Sunday in Boston. And the tribe jumped at the opportunity.

At Sunday’s concert, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell opened the show with a call to members of the audience to write to and call their congressmen to support the passage of HR 5244, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act. Mr. Cromwell also led the audience in a back-and-forth rallying cry. As captured on a video from backstage, Mr. Cromwell shouted “hoka” and the audience, as instructed, shouted back “hey.” The back-and-forth proceeded a few moments. “Hoka” is a word Mr. Cromwell uses as a welcoming at many of his public appearances.

Following the exchange, the Eastern Suns, the tribal drum group, gathered around a drum and performed for the audience as a few dancers in traditional regalia danced.

“It was a really awesome experience,” said David Weeden, a member of The Eastern Suns. The drummer, also a member of the tribal council, said that the lights were bright on stage and the audience was pretty dark, so it was difficult to judge how many people were there. He said that was probably a good thing as it may have prevented some stage fright. The group performed for a few minutes before the main act came on stage.

Mr. Weeden and other tribal members were able to join the band backstage after the show. He said that the band was “very down to earth.” Mr. Weeden said that for a group of celebrities, they were humble and engaging, as well as appreciative of the tribe’s struggles.

And the tribe is appreciative of the band’s invitation.

“With a national audience, hopefully this stands out,” Mr. Weeden said, suggesting the performance could lend to awareness of the congressional bill and, of course, the Eastern Suns.

The concert followed the support from the Standing Rock Sioux, whose September 13 resolution called for the passage of HR 5244, declaring that “The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe supports and stands in solidarity with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in calling on Congress to exercise its plenary authority to prevent the disestablishment of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Reservation.”

The resolution was passed two years after the Mashpee tribe passed its own resolution in support of the Standing Rock, as well as a financial donation to support the Dakota tribe in its fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Cape tribe also held a rally at the Mashpee rotary in support of the Sioux.

By Sam Houghton/Mashpee Enterprise