Freshly inaugurated Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Brian Weeden isn’t as enthusiastic on a casino resort as his predecessors.
Weeden beat out three others last month to lead the Massachusetts tribe. The position became vacant after former Chair Cedric Cromwell was ousted from office after being indicted on federal charges in an alleged bribery scheme related to the casino push.
Speaking with Boston Public Radio this week, Weeden says the casino isn’t going to make or break the tribe, which was incorporated in 1870.
I think a casino is a small drop in the bucket when we’re talking about services and other economic development the tribe can do,” Weeden stated. “Casinos are just the easiest thing for tribes to go at. However, what’s supposed to be easy has been very challenging for our tribe and our people, so I think it’s best to just reassess everything and see what the community wants to do.”
The Mashpee Wampanoags are one of two federally recognized tribes in Massachusetts, the other being the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head on Martha’s Vineyard.
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has been in a years-long fight to gain permission to build a $1 billion integrated casino resort in Taunton. The case has been repeatedly held up in state and federal courts.
The primary issue is whether 151 acres of land in Taunton the tribe acquired more than a decade ago qualifies to be taken into federal trust.
In 2015, under the Obama administration, the Interior Department said the land indeed qualified to be deemed sovereign. But under the Trump administration, the DOI reversed that decision and removed the Mashpee land from the federal registrar.
Malaysian casino giant Genting Group was partnered with the tribe to fund the $1 billion development. The two have since terminated their arrangement. But Genting says the tribe owes it $400,000 to cover costs associated with the resort’s early development.
Healing After Scandals
Cromwell is accused by the FBI of receiving nearly $58,000 in cash and in-kind benefits from an architectural firm that was awarded a $5 million design contract for the Taunton resort. Cromwell denies the allegations in the ongoing lawsuit.
Nonetheless, Cromwell was the second Mashpee chair to face federal charges. His predecessor, Glenn Marshall, was accused of corruption for embezzling $400,000 from the tribe. Marshall was sentenced to three years in prison in 2009.
The community needs to heal, and I think that one of the problems of our former leadership was the disconnect with them, and not listening to the people,” Weeden said. “That’s something that we plan on restoring by listening to our clan mothers, our spiritual leaders, our chief, our medicine man, all of our elders. That’s what we’re trying to do with restoring the integrity of the tribe and just leading from the heart.”
As for economic prosperity without a casino, Weeden has a plan. The chairman wants to create a deer farm on the tribe’s land, sell venison to local distributors, and tan the deer hide to make and sell traditional clothing. Another idea is to run canoe tours on the Mashpee rivers and waterways.
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