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Federal recognition among Northeast's good news

BOSTON - There was some good news in the Northeast in 2007.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, whose ancestors met the first colonist-settlers on the shores of Cape Cod in 1620, received federally acknowledgement Feb. 15 after spending 32 years in the BIA queue.

The tribe's good news was tempered a few months later, however, when former Chairman Glenn Marshall was ousted from office after admitting his rape conviction and his untruthfulness about his military service.

In July, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Interior Department's authority to take land into trust for the Narragansett Indian Tribe under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

The state had filed the lawsuit against Interior in 1998, arguing that the secretary was not authorized to take land into trust for any tribe federally recognized after the IRA was passed; that the Narragansetts' settlement act, passed by Congress in 1978, restricted the secretary's authority to place land into trust for the tribe; and that the Constitution prohibits the secretary from exercising trust authority.

The case was so important to Indian country - and its opponents - that it drew amicus curiae status from the National Congress of American Indians, dozens of individual tribes, more than a dozen state attorneys general and a national anti-Indian gaming group.

The 4 - 2 majority decision affirmed the Interior secretary's right to take into trust a 31-acre parcel of land, which is outside of the Narragansetts' 1,800-acre settlement lands, and that the state will have no authority over the property, which is under federal and tribal authority, or over any other land the tribe may acquire and Interior may take into trust.

In an earlier case, the court said that the tribe's 1,800-acre settlement lands are subject to state jurisdiction under the Rhode Island Indian Claims Settlement Act, even though the act doesn't say the tribe gave up its sovereignty and immunity.

But having insisted that the language of the settlement act meant only what it said, the court had ''worked itself into the mother of all corners and couldn't now turn around and say that the settlement act also applied to lands outside the settlement land even though it didn't say so,'' said an attorney involved in the case who asked that his name not be used.

The state has filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Several individuals were honored for their achievements in 2007.

*Wayne Newell, a Passamaquoddy educator and tribal council member, was nominated by Maine Gov. John Baldacci to the board of trustees for the University of Maine System last April.

Newell, who has a Master of Education from Harvard University, is the first American Indian to serve on the board.

*Fredda Paul, a Passamaquoddy elder, medicine man, healer, storyteller and living encyclopedia on the uses of indigenous plants, was recognized for his knowledge and practice with an honorary degree in environmental science at Unity College's commencement ceremony May 12.

Unity College President Mitchell Thomashow paid tribute to the long history of Maine's coastal tribes in presenting Paul with the honorary degree.

*Charles Norman Shay, 83, represented Maine's Native veterans when Maine Gov. John Baldacci proclaimed June 6 Native American Veterans History Day.

Shay, Penobscot, served with 16th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division in 1944 during the fierce battle on France's Omaha Beach that became known as D-Day.

Shay earned a Silver Star for his unselfish heroism on that day, when he plunged repeatedly into the cold and dangerous waters of the Atlantic Ocean to carry critically injured men to safety.

And 63 years later, in November 2007, Shay was awarded an honorary knighthood in the Legion d'Honneur by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on his first visit to Washington, D.C.