In the gaming compact proposed to the state last week, it’s clear the Mashpee Wampanoag will pay the state 21.5 percent of casino revenue. But compact language about land claims has local and state leaders scrambling to figure out what it is the tribe is looking for and what the governor’s office has agreed to help them secure.
The compact says the state will “use its best efforts” to negotiate an agreement in 2013 to resolve “certain title claims asserted by the tribe involving land and water in and around Mashpee.” It goes on to say the state will give consideration to conveying some land and water “now publicly held” to the tribe.
In their first interviews since the compact was signed Thursday, tribal council Chairman Cedric Cromwell and Vice Chairman Aaron Tobey said the state’s willingness to assist with land claims went a long way toward the tribe proposing the most lucrative gambling compact ever negotiated between a tribe and state.
The tribe is not seeking any private land in or around Mashpee as it did in a 1970s lawsuit, Tobey said. But, without being specific, he said the tribe would like control over public lands currently owned by the state and town — possibly including beaches.
The town and tribe already have a 2008 agreement in which the tribe agreed not to pursue a casino on tribe land in town and the town agreed to support the tribe’s land-in-trust application for a reservation.
“We’re looking to sit down and talk just like we did with state,” Tobey said. “We’re not looking for an adversarial relationship. We’re looking to sit down and come to an agreement.”
Overall, town and state land accounts for about one-quarter of the 23.5 square miles in Mashpee. The town and state own separate parts of South Cape Beach.
“Our counsel is still reviewing it,” Mashpee Town Manager Joyce Mason said about the gaming compact. “We don’t know for sure what it means for the community.”
State Sen. Daniel Wolf, D-Harwich, and state Rep. Randy Hunt, R-Sandwich, are also seeking clarification on what land the tribe is seeking and what it means for Mashpee.
“We have not really been able to glean that much,” Wolf said. “The interest of the tribe and the state at this point is to make sure it’s a balanced compact that the Bureau of Indian Affairs will sanction. The state will work with both parties — the tribe and the town — to move forward on land claims that have never been fully resolved.”
The town is concerned that the tribe may attempt to reopen the 2008 agreement, which was approved by the tribe and town meeting, Hunt said.
The state has also agreed to help the tribe reach an agreement securing aboriginal fishing and hunting rights this year, which an Indian gaming expert said last week is a reversal of a trend across the country. Usually states attempt to get tribes to concede those rights, said Steven Light, who studies Indian gaming issues at the University of North Dakota.
The aboriginal rights of Mashpee tribe members have periodically been called into question, including in 2010 when a member of the tribe was confronted by a shellfish warden in Mattapoisett. There was also a case in 1995 where two tribe members were convicted of violating Bourne’s shellfishing rules in a case that was later overturned on appeal by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.
“As a sovereign Indian people, aboriginal rights are important to us and something we never conceded on,” Cromwell said. “In certain situations, we get harassed and ticketed. It’s important for us to make sure our sovereign rights are protected, honored and respected.”
The tribe wants those rights to be “without interference” and also would like a seat at the table on committees that consider fishing regulations, Tobey said.
As the U.S. Department of the Interior considers taking 170 acres in Mashpee and 146 in Taunton into trust for the tribe, federal officials will consider what concessions the state is giving in exchange for the tribe’s agreement to share 21.5 percent of its revenue.
Cromwell and Tobey said there is great value in the state’s willingness to work with them on land issues, and fishing and hunting rights. The state’s strong support for the trust application is also a valuable concession, they said.
There’s no getting around the process, Cromwell said, but Patrick’s strong personal relationship with President Barack Obama can help as they deal with the tangle of legal issues involving that application.
“The relationship Deval Patrick has with President Obama is only a plus,” Cromwell said.