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Mashpee Tribe to Vote for New Chairman

Kathryn Eident
File photo from 2016: Mashpee Wampanoag elders raise the tribe's flag for the first time at their government headquarters in Mashpee to commemorate the federal government's recognition of more than 300 acres as the tribe's sovereign land.

Voters in the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe will go to the polls soon to elect a new chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council.

Four candidates are running for the top spot: Aaron Tobey, Brian Weeden, Nelson Andrews Jr. and Kyle Bassett.

Tobey and Weeden both currently serve on the council, as regular councilmembers.

Tobey was the tribe’s vice chairman a decade ago, and has been involved in tribal politics for over 30 years. Weeden is youngest in the field at age 28. He’s been active in the tribe and town government for a long time.

Nelson Andrews Jr. is currently the tribe’s emergency management coordinator. He worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, before returning to Mashpee a few years ago.

Kyle Bassett has had a long career in law enforcement and corrections.

The election has been pushed back two months because of a legal dispute about mail in voting.

The tribe’s election committee originally decided to hold the election through the mail, to keep residents safe during the pandemic. But three tribal members – including Tobey – filed a lawsuit saying the tribe's constitution does not allow for holding an election through the mail.
The tribe’s court agreed with the plaintiffs in the case. And this week, the tribal council set May 16 as the new election date.

For the first time in 12 years, former Chairman Cedric Cromwell will not be on the ballot.

Cromwell has been charged by federal prosecutors with bribery and extortion related to his dealings on a proposed tribe casino.

A second round of charges were brought against the former chairman this week. A grand jury indicted him for failing to report nearly $200-thousand dollars in earnings.

Prosecutors allege that he accepted bribes from a company looking for a contract related to the tribe’s Taunton casino plans.

Cromwell was first charged in November. He has still not gone to trial, but the council removed him as the chairman.

Restoring integrity to the tribal council, and to the chairman position has been a focus of every candidate in this election.

Before Cromwell, Glen Marshall was the chairman of the tribe. Marshall was sentenced to more than 3 years in a corruption scandal in 2009.

Aaron Tobey has been one of the most outspoken critics of Cromwell, for several years now.

He called out Cromwell for approving pay increases for himself and to other council members, around the same time the tribe broke ground on the casino five years ago.

Tobey has also called for a full accounting of the tribe’s finances. Under the Cromwell administration, the tribe spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a casino that has been stalled by a lawsuit filed by residents living in Taunton.

Also, Brian Weeden says that some of his top priorities if elected include passing what he calls an ethics ordinance, and also implementing constitutional reform.

He wants to restore what says is the power to the people in the constitution. As for this ethics ordinance, Weeden wants to create requirements for tribal members to serve on the council, or as chairman.

Also looming large in this election has been the tribe’s land status.

The tribe has been fighting for its land for a long time; most recently, they are in a legal battle with residents in Taunton.

Because of a recent judge’s decision, the federal government will have to reissue a ruling on whether the tribe should qualify to have a reservation.

Some tribe members are feeling hopeful the Biden Administration will fight for Native Americans across the country. He’s pulled an appeal the prior administration had filed against the Mashpee tribe relating to their land; and he’s picked Debra Haaland as his Interior Secretary, the first Native American named as a cabinet member.

But even if the Administration issues a favorable ruling for the Mashpee tribe, it’s likely to be appealed by the Taunton residents. And the tribe’s sovereign land – including the casino – are tied up in those decisions.

Candidates in the election understand that communication with federal officials will be key for the tribe going forward.

Andrews says he wants to work with congress to pass an Act that would protect not just Mashpee, but all of Indian Country. He also touted his career with FEMA, and his ability to pull in federal grants under his position as emergency management coordinator.

Tobey says he’s worked closely with state and federal officials when he was the vice-chairman.

Weeden says the tribe should try to seek an agreement with the state, similar to how the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe on Martha’s Vineyard has reached an agreement. Weeden wants the state to recognize any land the tribe purchases as sovereign tribal land.

Also, some candidates have focused on the pandemic. Andrews has helped lead the tribe through pandemic as emergency coordinator, and he says several tribes across the country used Mashpee as a model for how to respond. Bassett has also listed helping tribal residents through the pandemic as a priority.

Another topic is aboriginal fishing rights. They essentially allow tribal citizens to fish how and where they want. They can exceed state catch limits. But there’s a fear it will become increasingly difficult to exercise those rights, or they’ll be lost. So something all candidates say is, they really want to preserve those rights if elected.

Bassett says that one of his main priorities will also be to bring more services for tribal members suffering from opiate and other substance abuse issues.

Bassett could not be reached for this story.

Sam Houghton has been with the station since the summer of 2017. Before that, he worked at the Falmouth Enterprise, where he covered local politics.