What are we to make of it? Editorial – MV Times

We report with cautious optimism this week that the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah)says it plans to complete the unfinished community center that teams of Air Force reservists from Oklahoma and Alabama erected over the summer of 2004.

It is unlikely those citizen soldiers ever contemplated that 12 years after they left the Island’s smallest town, the building would remain unfinished, or that but for a legal challenge and a decision in favor of the town, the sound of basketballs on a gym floor might have been replaced with the noise and lights of electronic gaming.

Hopefully, the tribe will move with all haste to complete the community center so that it can be used for summer activities of the type originally contemplated for the 6,500-square-foot building that is to include a gym, kitchen, and meeting space.

For years, the building has represented a wedge between the tribe, and the town and wider Island community. In repeated votes, off-Island members of the tribe prevailed over Island members and directed the tribal leadership to pursue a so-called “boutique casino.”

That changed on Jan. 24, when the tribal council voted to complete the community center. There is now the possibility that the finished building will become a gathering place for tribal and nontribal year-round and seasonal Island residents. The Chilmark Community Center provides a good example of a vibrant space that serves many needs and constituencies.

Still, questions remain. Will the tribe comply with town building-permit and inspection requirements, or will it engage in another protracted legal struggle with the town over that issue? We hope that will not be the case, and that the tribe will put those objections aside for another day and a future ruling.

On Monday, lawyers representing the tribe filed a notice of appeal in U.S. District Court for the First Circuit, a procedural step on the way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, as it seeks to overturn a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV that the tribe cannot build a gaming facility on tribal lands in Aquinnah.

The overarching question is whether the tribe’s decision reflects a change in direction or a change in strategy. Arizona-based lawyer Scott Crowell, an expert in Native American law, told The Times, “The decision to complete the community center for nongaming purposes is not relevant to the appeal.”

What is relevant is a Sept. 1 deadline to complete the building or repay federal grants totaling $1.1 million.

So what is the tribe’s intention with respect to utilizing the community center for gaming in the future? That is difficult to discern from the opaque statements of Wampanoag tribal chairman Tobias Vanderhoop.

“Since late 2015, the tribe has been faced with a series of decision points about the way to move forward in the best interest of our citizens,” Mr. Vanderhoop said in an email to The Times. “In light of the ruling by Judge Saylor, the prospect of completing the community center has been the main subject of many discussions within the tribal administration and in the tribal council chamber. In consultation with our federal partners at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the tribe has been granted additional time to complete the community center project, the deadline for which is September 2016. Our team is currently completing a plan that will define the requirements necessary to finalize the project. It is clear that completing the community center is in the best interest of our people.”

Mr. Vanderhoop is cautious and careful in his statements. That is understandable. However, the need for caution should not preclude the obligation to communicate when the tribe makes decisions that impact the wider community. The tribe’s monthly newsletter is not widely distributed and its website is stale.

Aquinnah town administrator Adam Wilson said he has not heard anything from Mr. Vanderhoop. Nor has Aquinnah selectman Julianne Vanderhoop, who is also a tribal member. Aquinnah is a small place, particularly in the winter. Neighbors ought to be able to find time to talk.

Tribe moves forward with community center, gaming appeal

The Wampanoag tribe plans to complete its community center and appeal a judge’s decision barring its use for gaming. — File photo by Nelson Sigelman

The Wampanoag tribe plans to complete its community center and appeal a judge’s decision barring its use for gaming. — File photo by Nelson Sigelman

The Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), fresh on the heels of a tribal council vote to complete its long-unfinished community center for its original intended purpose — a community center and not an electronic gaming hall — took the first legal step to appeal a judge’s decision barring it from gaming in Aquinnah.

On Monday, Feb. 1, tribe lawyer Scott Crowell, who heads the Crowell Law Office Tribal Advocacy Group, based in Sedona, Ariz., filed a three-page notice of appeal in U.S. District Court for the First Circuit, a procedural step as it seeks to overturn a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV that the tribe cannot turn the building into a gambling facility. The next legal venue is the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and a detailed brief outlining the tribe’s legal arguments.

Asked how the decision of the tribal council to move forward with completion of the community center dovetails with the appeal, Mr. Crowell said he has no reason to believe the tribe’s position has changed. “The appeal is about the tribe’s right to game on its Indian lands, and not about completion of the community center,” he said in an email to The Times. “The decision to complete the community center for nongaming purposes is not relevant to the appeal.”

Even as the legal battle continues, the tribe has taken steps to meet a deadline to complete the building or repay federal grants totaling $1.1 million. On Jan. 24, the tribal council voted 9-2 to finish off the the 6,500-square-foot building that sits just off the entrance road to the tribal lands.

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is the recipient of two Indian Community Development Block Grants (ICDBG), one for $500,000 and one for $600,000 to construct a multipurpose community center on tribal land, according to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) spokesman Rhonda Siciliano.

“The $500,000 ICDBG is fully expended, and there is a balance of approximately $30,000 in the $600,000 ICDBG, and those funds are on a hold and not available for expenditure at present,” Ms. Siciliano said.

Under normal circumstances, funds are available for eight years. “Tribes normally expend all funds well within the eight-year appropriation time frame; however, this is obviously not the case with the Wampanoag Tribe,” Ms. Siciliano said.

According to HUD, the tribe has expended over 99 percent of the funds but did not complete the project, and has been granted “a final extension” until Sept. 1, 2016, to complete the project.

Best interests

In the summer of 2004, two teams of Air Force reservists traveled from their home base, Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Okla., to Aquinnah to begin erecting the steel frame for a new community center building for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head.

They were followed by members of the 908th civil engineering squadron, part of the Air Lift Wing based in Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. In all, over six weeks, three squadrons of approximately 20 reservists in civil engineering groups worked on the project as part of the Air Reserve Command Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program. The tribe was obligated to complete the remaining 20 percent of the project.

Twelve years later, the 6,200-square-foot structure that was to include a gymnasium, kitchen facilities, and meeting space may finally be completed.

In a statement emailed to The Times Tuesday, Wampanoag chairman Tobias Vanderhoop explained the tribe’s position.

“Since late 2015, the tribe has been faced with a series of decision points about the way to move forward in the best interest of our citizens. In light of the ruling by Judge Saylor, the prospect of completing the community center has been the main subject of many discussions within the tribal administration and in the tribal council chamber. In consultation with our federal partners at the US. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the tribe has been granted additional time to complete the community center project, the deadline for which is September 2016. Our team is currently completing a plan that will define the requirements necessary to finalize the project. It is clear that completing the community center is in the best interest of our people.”

In the dark

Despite the intimacy of the Island’s smallest town in winter, and the significance of the tribal council vote, more than a week and a half later, town leaders said they have not received any communication from Chairman Vanderhoop that the tribe will complete the community center.

Aquinnah town administrator Adam Wilson said he has not heard anything from Mr. Vanderhoop, either in the form of an email, phone call, or a visit. Mr. Wilson said the community center is still subject to town building regulations. Mr. Wilson said he would have expected to hear from the tribe, but acknowledging the local quirks, he said sometimes news travels a more informal route.

Aquinnah selectman Julianne Vanderhoop, who is also a tribal member and a foe of the tribe’s effort to build a gaming facility on tribal lands, said she was happy to hear that the building would be used for its original purpose, but she has heard nothing from the tribe about its plans.

“It’s been unfortunate, the relationship between this tribal administration and the town,” she said.

Ms. Vanderhoop lay the blame at the feet of Tobias Vanderhoop, who she said has shown little respect for the three-member board of selectmen, on which two tribal members, Ms. Vanderhoop and Spencer Booker, serve, and the board’s opposition to gaming. The board is a party to the federal lawsuit.

Significant issues

Judge Saylor’s 40-page decision, issued Nov. 13, was a sweeping victory for the town of Aquinnah, the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Judge Saylor said the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), signed in 1988, does not trump the Settlement Act, signed by tribal leadership in 1983 and ratified by the state legislature in 1985 and by Congress in 1987.

The settlement agreement stipulated that the tribe was subject to local and state laws and zoning regulations in effect at the time, and it has formed the bedrock of the longstanding legal relationship between the tribe and the rest of the Martha’s Vineyard community.

Following a detailed analysis of the issues in the case, Judge Saylor said, “In summary, the tribe has not met its burden of demonstrating that it exercises sufficient ‘governmental power’ over the settlement lands, and therefore IGRA does not apply. Furthermore, and in any event, it is clear that IGRA did not repeal by implication the Massachusetts Settlement Act.”

In making his decision, Judge Saylor said, “Whether an Indian tribe should be permitted to operate a casino on Martha’s Vineyard is a matter of considerable public interest, and the question touches upon a variety of complex and significant policy issues.”

by Nelson Sigelman

With Clock Ticking, Tribe Votes to Finish Community Center – MV Gazette

Wampanoag HQ

Tribe faced deadline to complete community center or refund grant money. – Alex Elvin

Elected leaders of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe have voted to turn away from plans to convert an unfinished community center into a gambling facility, and instead use the vacant building for its original purpose, tribe members said this week.

At a meeting last week, the tribal council of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) voted to transfer control of the building from the Aquinnah Wampanoag Gaming Corp., the tribe’s gaming arm, back to the council itself, according to tribe members familiar with the proceedings.

That step signaled the leadership’s intention to finish work on the 6,500-square-foot building and put it to use as a community center, they said.

“We are moving forward with the completion of the community center as a community center. That’s a great development,” tribal council chairman Tobias Vanderhoop told the Gazette by telephone Thursday. Mr. Vanderhoop declined to discuss the details of the meeting, saying they involve internal tribe matters. But he said the tribe is not backing away from pursuing its rights to casino gambling. “At this time, we are working on two fronts,” Mr. Vanderhoop said. “The tribe also believes there are federal [gaming] rights that are available to us or should be available to us that we are continuing to fight for [through the courts].”

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Judge Denies Tribe’s Motion to Reconsider Casino Ruling – MV Gazette

A federal judge will not reconsider his recent ruling rejecting a bid by the Wampanoag tribe to build a casino in Aquinnah.

In a one-sentence decision on Wednesday this week, U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor 4th denied a request to reconsider by tribe attorneys.

“After careful consideration and review, the [152] motion of defendants and counterclaim-plaintiffs for reconsideration is denied,” the decision said.

The case is now expected to head to a formal appeal process in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the first circuit.

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Wampanoag Tribe Asks Federal Judge To Reconsider Casino Ruling John H. Kennedy – MV Gazette

The Aquinnah tribe on Friday asked a federal judge to reconsider his decision to reject its bid to build a gambling hall on tribal land.

In its motion, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) argued that U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor 4th should take note of new developments, including those involving two Texas tribes in situations similar to the tribe on Martha’s Vineyard.

Attorneys for the tribe are seeking oral arguments before the judge.

Judge Saylor ruled Nov. 13 that the tribe does not exert sufficient governmental power over its land to qualify under the Indian Gaming Rights Act for a class II gambling facility, which features electronic bingo.

In addition, the judge found that even if the tribe qualified under IGRA, the 1988 law would not invalidate gambling restrictions in a land claims settlement agreement approved by the tribe in 1983 and ratified as law by the commonwealth and federal government 1987. The settlement ended a nine-year-old lawsuit brought by the tribe against the town and gave the tribe land in Gay Head (today Aquinnah), but also required compliance with state and local laws, including prohibitions on gambling.

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State Supreme Court Set to Decide Aquinnah Land Use Case - MV Gazette

Rare heathlands off Moshup Trail are at center of 18-year-old court case. - Mark Lovewell

Rare heathlands off Moshup Trail are at center of 18-year-old court case.
– Mark Lovewell

The state’s highest court heard arguments this week in a widely-watched land use case that will ultimately decide whether a swath of rare coastal heathland along Moshup Trail in Aquinnah will remain forever wild or be opened up for development.

The complicated 18-year-old case involves arcane issues of law and is the first of its kind to be heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The outcome could potentially have far-reaching effects on land titles throughout the town of Aquinnah.

Lead plaintiffs in the case are Aquinnah landowners James Decoulos and Maria Kitras, who want to establish their right of legal access to two landlocked parcels off Moshup Trail totaling about 30 acres. To reach their land from the public road, they are seeking an easement through conservation land. Without legal access to a public road, a property cannot be developed. They are joined by another plaintiff group that includes Aquinnah landowners Mark and Charles Harding.

Defendants include the town of Aquinnah, the Vineyard Conservation Society, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, the state of Massachusetts and several private property owners, among them Caroline Kennedy and her husband Edwin Schlossberg Jr.

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