October 17 - 1978: Mashpee Wampanoags sue for recognition

They lost their case after a 40-day trial
This early woodcut shows a Wampanoag helping the settlers plant crops. Another proof perhaps of the adage "no good deed goes unpunished".

1978: Tribal recognition trial began today, 40 days later the tribe lost their case

Many years later they finally win federal recognition

As of late, the Mashpee Wampanoag most often appear in headlines about casino development in the commonwealth. But it wasn't that long ago the tribe struggled to be officially recognized. Mass Moments recalls the begin of a trial on this day in 1978:

This week in 1978, a trial began on Cape Cod to determine whether the Mashpee Indians met the legal definition of a tribe. If they did, they could sue for the return of land granted to them in 1685. With huge amounts of undeveloped land at stake, Mashpee's non-Indian residents hired lawyers. The defense argued that the Mashpee Wampanoag had intermarried with so many different groups over the years that they were no longer genetically the same people as the original Mashpee. The lawyers also claimed that the Mashpee had not maintained their traditions. After a 40-day trial, the judge declared that the Mashpee Wampanoag did not meet the legal definition of a tribe and therefore had no standing to sue. The case was dismissed...

The Mashpee lost the case but did not abandon the effort to reclaim their land. In 1990 they petitioned the U.S. government for recognition as a tribe. On March 31, 2006, after a 31-year struggle, the 1,468-member tribe finally won preliminary recognition. The Globe reported that the announcement "was greeted with tears, howls of jubilation, and the beating of drums by tribal members. 'We've been waiting so long,'" one 89-year-old Wampanoag sobbed.

Read the complete story at MassMoments.org here.


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