Without question, the most complex and intensive effort of our early activities related to the lawsuit brought by the Wampanoag Tribal Council (now the Wampanoag Tribe) against the Town of Gay Head (now named Aquinnah) in 1974, which then led to the 1983 Settlement Agreement, implementing Federal and Commonwealth legislation in 1987 and 1985, respectively, and to various transfers of real property in the Town to the U.S. Government in Trust for the Tribe, the last of which was effected in 1992. Please go to Key Documents – 1974 Law Suit/Settlement Agreement/Enabling Legislation and Related Acts to find a more detailed description of the law suit and its aftermath and to see copies of the key documents and relevant laws.
We again became involved in litigation in that we intervened as a party to the law suit brought by the Town against the Tribe in 2001 which relates to a structure built by the Tribe on its hatchery site without first obtaining a building permit from the Town. As the Town aptly pointed out, the issues raised by this law suit went to the core principles of the 1983 Settlement Agreement. And, the ultimate determinations in this law suit could have had material impact not only on the Town of Aquinnah but throughout Martha’s Vineyard generally. The lower court concluded that the Town had “a right but no remedy” in that the Tribe had not waived its immunity to suit.
Because the Town decided not to undertake an appeal, AGHCA by necessity had to undertake the major role for a considerable time in this regard. And, as we requested, the Supreme Judicial Court (the highest court in Massachusetts) decided to take the appeal directly due to the import of the issues involved. It was of great help and significance when the Attorney General of Massachusetts subsequently also joined in the appeal due to the potential import of the issues on the Island and Commonwealth generally.
In late 2004, the Supreme Judicial Court reversed the lower court and in a very strong opinion stated that it was clear that the Tribe had indeed waived its sovereign immunity to suit, making various references to the 1983 Settlement Agreement in doing so.
The Tribe’s remaining recourse was to seek a review by the U.S. Supreme Court but the Tribe ultimately decided in July, 2005 not to pursue this course.
The case was then returned to the lower court for the purpose of determining the remedy to be afforded the Town. The Town moved to re-join the law suit and then advised the Court that the remedy it sought was for the Tribe to file for the permits for the projects which were the subject of the Suit. AGHCA supported this remedy and March, 2006 the Tribe advised the Court that it would be doing so. This then led to the law suit being formally concluded. Many of the representatives of the Town and the Tribe and a number of other interested residents then worked diligently to come to agreement on and then to document a process intended to minimize the potential of litigation should land use disputes arise, such as issues pertaining to the permitting process relating to future land use permit requests by the Tribe. This led to the entering into of a Memorandum of Understanding (the “MOU”) between the Town and the Tribe in June, 2007. The MOU provides for a number of review and advisory procedures should such disputes arise. Please go to BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF AGHCA for more details about the law suit and to In The Press – Building Site Law Suit to see the numerous news articles regarding the issues and course of the litigation and several editorials that discuss the wide-spread potential import of the issues involved, and regarding the MOU.
As more fully discussed in the Brief Description of AGHCA, although not active currently, another significant issue over the past few years pertaining to the relationships between the Town and the Tribe concerned the Tribe’s effort to establish its own armed police force. This matter has been dormant for several years, but please go to In The Press to see news articles regarding this matter.
There are numerous other matters involving public policy issues and of interest regarding the Town, some of which from time to time are the subject of news articles. One of our objectives is to help provide resources for residents and other interested people to keep apprised of such matters, and one of our ways of doing so is to provide access here to such news articles in In The Press.