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Moving Forward Anyway: Mass. Tribe Ignores Cease and Desist Order to Continue Work on Casino

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The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, Mass. (Aquinnah) ignored a cease and desist order from the state Monday telling them to halt their work on converting a 6,200 sq ft. community center into a class II gaming facility on Indian land. The tribe is moving forward with plans to offer electronic bingo in the facility-- not games like blackjack or roulette –- in the fall.

According to a report from the Vineyard Gazette – the local paper in Martha’s Vineyard where the tribe's reservation is located – the order came from leaders or selectmen in the town of Aquinnah who say that the conversion is illegal. They claim that the tribe forfeited its right to offer gaming on their land when they signed a land settlement agreement in 1983, an act that subjects them to state and local laws.

But the tribe says federal legislation allows them to proceed with the gaming facility. The tribe's attorney Scott Crowell wrote in an email to the Gazette: “The tribe's position, consistent with the federal government, is that IGRA supersedes all laws of the commonwealth and the town that are integral to the tribe's operation of a gaming facility.”

In 2013, the state sued the tribe to block its plans for the casino, but as the litigation process has dragged on, the tribe continues to move forward with the work despite state and local prohibitions and a final decision from the court.

“To get into a question of when do you wait, when do you move, when do you wait, when do you move, as the chairman indicated, the tribe has the approvals required to move forward,” Crowell told the Gazette. “And unless and until those circumstances change, we’ll move forward.”

Local leaders say that there has been open dialog with the tribe on other crucial issues, but not this one. “I think this board has tried to convene with Tobias [Vanderhoop, the tribal chairman] and other members of the planning team down at the tribe on several occasions,” Julianne Vanderhoop, a selectman and member of the tribe, referring to tribal chairman Tobias Vanderhoop told the newspaper. “We’re trying to develop a better relationship by communication and regular meetings and I have heard little to nothing [since the last meeting was held early in the year],” she said.

Crowell says the tribe has offered to “work on a government-to-government agreement [with the state] that recognizes tribal but not local jurisdiction over the gaming site,” Indianz.com reported.

Despite this recent setback, the tribe will press on, even in the face of disagreement within its tribal membership. “I can honestly say that most of the tribe members from Aquinnah don’t want this [casino],” Juli Vanderhoop told the Cape Cod Times. “This is absolutely not what we want.”

But, Chairman Tobais Vanderhoop says he’s moving forward with the plans. “It is my responsibility to carry out the will of the people,” he told the Gazette.

A federal judge will hear arguments from both parties next month.