Tribal Chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais

Tribal Chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais

Faced with a lawsuit challenging its right to build a casino in Aquinnah, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is seeking to have the case decided in federal, not state court.

In a petition filed with the state attorney general’s office on Monday, the tribe requests that a lawsuit filed by Gov. Deval Patrick be removed to U.S. District Court in Boston.  Gov. Patrick filed the suit in the state Supreme Judicial Court against the tribe in December to block any attempt by the tribe to convert its unfinished community center on Martha’s Vineyard into a high stakes bingo parlor.

The tribe’s petition must be approved by the state attorney general’s office before the case can be moved.

Gov. Patrick’s complaint claims that the tribe breached a 1983 land claims settlement agreement by taking steps to allow a casino in Aquinnah, including forming a gaming commission and passing a gaming ordinance.

The settlement agreement was upheld by the SJC, the state’s highest court, in 2004. The tribe argues that the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act superseded the settlement agreement.

Tribal Chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais had said as recently as this fall that the tribe was actively pursuing plans to open a casino in Aquinnah, but her defeat for re-election in November put those plans in doubt. A special tribal meeting is planned for January to discuss the issue.

In jointly issued statements Monday, Mrs. Andrews-Maltais and Tobias Vanderhoop, who will succeed her as chairman of the tribe next week, said the tribe needed to protect its rights.

“As expected, the Patrick administration continues to insist that the tribe has no rights to game under federal law,” Mrs. Andrews-Maltais said in the statement. “The tribe has never expressly given up our right to conduct gaming, which is why we sought and received the necessary approvals and legal opinions from the appropriate federal agencies confirming our rights.”

Mr. Vanderhood echoed the point: “Our tribe has consistently maintained that we enjoy rights to game under federal law.  Federal court is the appropriate venue for this case to be heard and the tribe will vigorously defend our rights.”

by Remy Tumin