Tobias Vanderhoop, the newly elected chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), is not completely slamming the door on a casino within miles of the picturesque cliffs of Aquinnah.
“We are interested in having a discussion and being fully informed about how we move forward,” Vanderhoop said Monday in answer to whether a Martha’s Vineyard casino is now off the table. “The will of our people is what guides us.”
Vanderhoop, a 39-year-old tribe member from Aquinnah, had been working part time in a fellow tribe member’s drywall company and part time as the tribe’s chief administrator for the tribal court before his victory Sunday over Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, 48, of Edgartown.
A graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, he trounced Andrews-Maltais 165-91 in an election decided by a little less than 20 percent of the tribe’s 1,300 members. He will take over in January.
Last week, Andrews-Maltais threw the fledgling Massachusetts casino industry a curveball when she released an opinion from the National Indian Gaming Commission that the Vineyard-based tribe has authority to open a casino on its island reservation of more than 400 acres.
That opinion is disputed by the town of Aquinnah and Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration, both of which say the tribe ceded those rights in a 1987 land settlement. Patrick has said he stands behind the state’s position, although he is having his chief legal counsel review the Aquinnah letter.
The opinion from the federal agency that controls Indian casinos says that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which was passed the year after that settlement, supersedes the land agreement.
With that in hand, Andrews-Maltais went on the offensive last week, saying the tribe preferred to build a mainland casino, but short of that would open a Class II facility in an unfinished community center next to the tribe’s headquarters in Aquinnah. She spent much of the week leading up to the election away from the island at a national conference of tribal leaders that featured an appearance by President Obama.
Andrews-Maltais has not returned repeated phone calls and email messages from the Times seeking comment about the election. In a statement she sent to the Vineyard Gazette, she said she was “profoundly disappointed” in the outcome. —» I wish Tobias and our tribal community the best of luck in these very difficult and uncertain times,” she told the Gazette.
Donald Widdiss, who lost the tribe’s top job to Andrews-Maltais in 2007, said Sunday’s vote was a referendum on the island casino idea. “It was pretty simple. Tribe members are dissatisfied with what was happening,” he said. “They did something about it.”
Tribe history repeated itself a bit. In the weeks leading up to the 2007 election for chairman, Widdiss announced a partnership with the Seneca Nation of New York to build a mainland casino. That deal fizzled after Andrews-Maltais took over and as the state shifted its focus toward negotiating with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.
“Our focus should be on the Vineyard without the idiocy of an island casino,” Widdiss said. “It makes no sense.”
An island casino has been looked at previously and would not provide the economic development the tribe needs, he said. The tribe would be better-suited looking at technology and tourism, he said.
In the process of pursuing an island casino, Andrews-Maltais has hurt the tribe’s relationships on Martha’s Vineyard, Widdiss said. It will be up to Vanderhoop to rebuild or, in some instances, establish relationships, he said.
Chief Ryan Malonson of the Aquinnah dodged questions about the bigger meaning behind Vanderhoop’s resounding victory.
“It’s just a change,” he said. “Change will always come. We’ll wait and see what happens.”
Vanderhoop told the Times last week that members of the tribe “don’t necessarily see this as something that works for them,” referring to plans to renovate a community center into a facility offering high-stakes bingo and so-called bingo slot machines.
“The folks living on the tribal land have concerns about the proximity (of a gambling hall) to the place where they live,” Vanderhoop said.
Vanderhoop has worked in various capacities for the tribe, including stints on the youth council and as tribal administrator.
“I’ve always had an attachment to our people. I always believed what I could for our tribe is give back,” he said. “I’ve dedicated myself to my community.”
Among those congratulating Vanderhoop on his Facebook page is Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Cedric Cromwell.
In a return message, Vanderhoop said he looks forward to “being in touch” with the leader of the state’s other federally recognized tribe.
Vanderhoop said Monday he also looks forward to reaching out to the governor, though he said that will be worked out as part of the transition from Andrews-Maltais to his administration.
by George Brennan