Mashpee chairman’s photo sparks pro- and anti-casino blogger battle

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A photo of Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman Cedric Cromwell published in Indian Country Today earlier this month has sparked a battle between pro- and anti-casino bloggers in Middleboro, Mass., where the tribal nation continues to develop plans to build a casino.

The photo showed a head shot of Cromwell wearing a variation of a gustoweh, the traditional Haudenosaunee feathered headdress, at the Mashpee Wampanoag’s 88th annual powwow over July 4th weekend.

Cromwell was elected chairman in February after the tribe emerged from a rocky two-year period of scandal surrounding former Chairman Glenn Marshall.

Marshall is currently serving a prison term of three-and-a-half years and three years’ probation on an array of federal charges including social security fraud, tax evasion, making illegal campaign contributions and embezzlement of more than $400,000 of tribal funds.

The battle began when anti-casino blogger Mark Belanger posted the photo of Cromwell on his blog, Bellicose Bumpkin, Aug. 7, with the comment, “I nearly peed my pants when I saw this photo of would-be Middleboro casino tycoon and Mashpee Wampanoag leader Cedric Cromwell seen here in this Indian Country today photo. Classic.”

Pro-casino blogger Hal Brown took umbrage at both the comment and the copyright violation of using the photo without permission or attribution, and posted a response on his blog, Brownie’s Heckuva Blog, headlined “Mark Belanger’s insult and injury.”

“He mocked the Native American headdress Cromwell was wearing. … Then in his comment section he says that ‘It could be Carmen Miranda in drag.’ Making this insult worse was the injury, i.e., the fact that he violated copyright by publishing the picture without permission,” Brown wrote.

Brown was also annoyed at the posted comments and their misspellings.

“Those who commented on this blog demonstrate the same level of insensitivity to Indian tradition. Some excerpts (the word is actually spelled headdress): 1) ‘What the heck is that on his head is it an indian headress? Looks like a bunch of paint brushes.’ 2) ‘Buy a box of beads and feathers, labled made in china, and make your own headress.’ 3) ‘A picture is worth a thousand words. And in this case, a million laughs.’”

The battle over Mashpee’s proposed casino began soon after the nation attained federal acknowledgment May 24, 2007. After three months of controversy, contention and intense negotiations between the tribe and the town’s five-member board of selectmen, at a referendum that drew the highest voter turnout in living memory residents voted 2,387-1,335 to allow the Mashpee Wampanoags to build a proposed $1 billion casino resort in town modeled after the hugely successful Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

South African casino development partners Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman, owners of Trading Cove Associates, who developed Mohegan Sun and Twin Rivers Casino in Rhode Island, earlier had signed a contract with Marshall to develop the Mashpee casino.

But Cromwell’s administration has taken a dim view of the agreement as previously unknown information continues to surface. Trading Cove recently stopped paying the tribe and the tribal council recently voted not to reaffirm the development services contract with the investors.

Belanger and Brown, both Middleborough residents, have been metaphorically duking it out in cyberspace over the proposed Mashpee casino on pro- and anti- casino Web sites – www.casino-friend.com and www.casinofacts.org – since 2007.

After Belanger was notified of his copyright violation, he added an Indian Country Today credit line to the image and contacted Brown to ask if he had “outed” him to ICT.

That inspired another posting by Brown, called “Outing and ratting out Mark Belanger.”

“Mark asked if I outed him to Indian Country Today for copyright infringement. I told him that while I wouldn’t use that term, of course it was me. He wanted to know the names of any other blogs I ‘ratted out.’”

As of press time, the war continues.

In an Aug. 25 posting, Belanger talked about Massachusetts’ plan to try to legalize casinos in the fall.

“Gambling is stooopid folks. Maybe people will get smart and stop flushing their money down the casino toilet. Maybe Massachusetts is buying a buggy whip factory at top dollar just as the first Model T’s are rolling off the Ford assembly lines. Instead of the 50-60% take on gambling revenue that Massachusetts should be going after, we’re going to settle for some casino-friendly pittance like 20-25%. This despite the fact that we are a lucrative market and could write our own ticket. It’s Middleboro on a larger scale – a bunch of uninformed numbskulls so desperate for a deal that they’re lining up and holding signs to screw themselves for the honor,” Belanger wrote.

Not to be outdone, Brown responded the next day in a posting headlined “Belanger once again likes casinos if the money is right.”

“Mark Belanger used to say that Middleboro should have demanded some $21 million as its take from the casino. He used to say he was against casino at any price but at least if we have to have one we should get a far larger share of the profits. Now he’s at it again even as he says that a Middleboro casino is all but dead. He considers us to be ‘a lucrative market’ saying we ‘could write our own ticket.’ I don’t quite know what to make of that. Is it a lucrative market or a dying market?”

Cromwell declined to comment on the blogger battle.