Police in Plymouth, Mass. have charged the chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in relation to the theft of four artifacts from a local museum, The Mashpee Enterprise reports.
Brian Weeden, 30, who is also the head of the tribe’s gaming commission, and another man, Phillip C. Hicks Jr, also 30, are alleged to taken two bulrush mats and two bearskin rugs from the Plimoth Patuxet Museums. The items were exhibited inside a traditional Mashpee domed hut, known as a wetu, and are worth around $10,000 in total.
Weeden was elected in May 2021 with a promise to “restore integrity” to the tribe. That was after the federal indictment of its previous chair, Cedric Cromwell, on charges of bribery and tax evasion.
Cromwell was ultimately convicted of accepting bribes in connection with the proposed $1 billion First Light casino resort, which the tribe has been trying to build for years in Taunton Mass.
In a memo to the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts Monday, US District Attorney Rachael Rollins argued that Cromwell should pay restitution to the tribe for the reputational damage he had caused.
She cited “distrust in potential lenders for the [casino] project, impeding the Tribe’s ability to obtain financing for economic development.”
Cromwell’s predecessor, Glenn Marshall, was also charged with corruption. He served three years in prison for embezzling $400,000 from the Mashpee.
A heavily redacted police report seen by the Enterprise reveals that the items reputedly taken by Weeden and Hicks have since been returned to the museum. The report does not list the specific charges against the pair.
Museum security showed three individuals loading the artifacts onto a Chevrolet Traverse, which was traced to Weeden.
Hostility to Museum
The Mashpee chair denied all knowledge of the incident to the Enterprise and has refused to respond to request for comment from other media outlets.
Plimoth Patuxet is a popular “living history” museum featuring historical reenactors. They portray 17th century life in Plymouth, the settlement founded by the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower and interacted with the Wampanoag people at the “first Thanksgiving.”
But some members of the tribe have complained the museum has not fulfilled its promise of being a “bi-cultural” enterprise that equally tells the story of both settlers and Indigenous people.
Critics also claim the museum has failed to properly care for Native exhibits and is not hiring and retaining enough tribal members.
Long Wait for First Light
The First Light Casino project was halted in 2016 amid legal challenges. But it got a boost in December last year when the Biden Administration reaffirmed the tribe’s sovereignty and right to reservation land that includes the casino site.
Discussions held between lawyers for the tribe and the City of Taunton later that month suggested the project would be back on track and that Malaysian casino giant Genting would still offer its financial backing.
But Weeden has offered no official announcement or time line for its recommencement and appears to be cautious about the project.
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