By Peter KenneyB
efore their tribe was recognized by the federal government, members of the Mashpee Wampanoag possessed the same rights as any other American citizen. These included free speech, freedom of assembly and presenting grievances against those who govern them without fear of reprisal.
Now, with their sovereignty in hand, members of the tribe find themselves without some of the freedoms they enjoyed when they were governed by the non-Indian government that occupies what was their land for 10,000 years. Birth certificates proved their American citizenship, but their names are mysteriously and secretly being scrubbed from tribal rolls. The right of grievance is smothered by intimidation, hastily made rules and shady readings of petitions.
Worst of all is the introduction of a non-Indian practice, shunning. Tribes in the western United States have experienced this bizarre practice in similar circumstances: when members spoke against plans put forth by outsiders for making money using tribal sovereignty in enterprises such as gambling, members who objected were shunned ... voted out of the tribe.
The practice of shunning is, according to those in the Mashpee, a foreign thing. Now there are drafts of a new rule making it possible to banish members. At a time when sovereignty should unify and strengthen the tribe, the leadership of the tribal council, lapdogs to outside"investors" whose only goal is profit at the expense of the tribe, are busy finding ways to push those who question them out of the tribe. It is cruelty beyond measure that a few greedy people in the tribe are denying their kin what the federal government has finally acknowledged.
Due process has seemingly become a thing of the past. The usually democratic way of doing things and making decisions, the "Indian Way," has become the way of the autocrat, the dictator. How ironic and cruel: the white man's world offered greater protection than that provided by their own leaders. Even in his disgrace, former tribal council chairman Glenn Marshall's shadow keeps the light out of tribal meetings. His sell-out to outside money is so complete that even his ouster does not renew the tribe's true ways.
Still, even shunned tribe members say they would not shun Marshall. In spite of him, the Indian Way is alive and well in Mashpee. These people can teach the rest of us a lot about decency and genuine community.
For those of us who are mere spectators, there is a serious question to be asked. If tribal leaders can be so dominated by outsiders with money, can we or the state actually deal with these same outsiders and expect any less corruption or deceit? If Mashpee is not safe, why should we expect this of Beacon Hill?
We can learn from our Mashpee neighbors as they move toward regaining control of their destinies, fighting the influence of big outside money. As they struggle to regain their freedom of speech, assembly and petition, so should we. After all the promises of high-paying jobs, new roads, money to host communities and revenues to the state, we still have to reckon with Massachusetts' well-known penchant for insider dealings and brutal politics.
After the lobbyists and lawyers and pols have their say, there will still be only one rule in casino gambling ... the house always wins. Let's make sure the house is ours. The casinos will be money machines producing billions - a lot of inducement for those willing to take advantage of situations and people. While only a handful of Mashpee have fallen under the spell of the men with the green hearts, do we really expect our politicians and bureaucrats to avoid this fate?
Denial of human rights on Indian Territory a deep concern to all Native people
In response to the Sept. 27 column (above) by Peter Kenney regarding the denial of basic human rights on Indian Territory I can assure your readers that this problem is national in scope and of deep concern to all Native people. The actual practice of disenrolling tribal members began among the Oneidas of New York State in 1995 when a group of Native women expressed their concerns about the total lack of financial accountability with regards to the Turning Stone Casino. When the women sought a forensic audit they were harrassed, threatened, branded as "traitors" and finally stripped of all of the their tribal benefits.
They took their case to the US federal courts but in a historic decision handed down by the liberal Second Circuit Court of Appeals (see Shenandoah v. Halbritter) in New York they were told that although the justices were sympathetic to their condition the women had no recourse under US laws. The Court further ruled that the Bill of Rights under the federal consitution, which establishes the freedoms hundreds of thousands of Americans have died to protect, does not apply in Indian country.
As reprehensible as this is to most Americans the Second Circuit's ruling was sustained by the US Supreme Court. Once the Oneida Tribe was free to supress its own people other Indian governments followed suit from California to Massachusetts. At the bottom of this are those external interests who seek to use Native people for their own material gain without the encumbarances of democracy.
The governor of your state has a way to resolve this: insist that any tribal government enact an enforceable Bill of Rights and provide for open accountability of all gambling operations before signing a gaming compact.