By Stephanie Vosk -- Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.
MASHPEE, Mass. (MCT) - It was almost entirely tribe members who filled the rows of seats behind Jessie ;'Little Doe'' Fermino as she took the podium the night of March 26.
Welcome to Wampanoag territory, she told the officials from the BIA who sat on stage.
''I was born in this town and ... my bones will be in this town,'' she said, and then gestured to the audience. ''All of these people are my family.''
The hearing at Mashpee High School was the second in as many days on the tribe's application to put land in Mashpee and Middleboro into trust with the federal government. About 140 acres in Mashpee would be used for tribal housing and services. About 539 acres in Middleboro would be used to build a casino resort under federal gaming laws.
The mood and crowd March 26 were remarkably different from the previous night's Middleboro hearing.
In Middleboro, opponents filed to the podium one after another. Some argued the negative impacts of a casino while others questioned the tribe's ties to the Middleboro land.
There were six speakers in total, five of them tribe members, and hardly a negative word was spoken.
The only complaint at all came from tribe member Michelle Russell, who argued the town of Mashpee was not giving enough land to the tribe.
In her remarks, Fermino said she hopes the tribe will be able to build on its agreement with Mashpee later.
Fermino also responded to claims made the night of March 25 that the Wampanoag do not have the necessary historical connection to Middleboro to seek reservation land in the town.
Two leaders of the Massachuseuk tribe spoke at the Middleboro hearing and accused the Mashpee Wampanoag of invading their territory and going against the Native way by forsaking the environment to build a casino.
Although other American Indians have asserted ties to Middleboro, the Mashpee Wampanoag and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) are the only Massachusetts tribes recognized by the federal government.
''It takes more than putting on some beads and braids and calling yourself an Indian or a tribe,'' Fermino said. ''We've been a tribe when it was not fun, when it was not convenient.''
With her Wampanoag headband proudly displayed, tribal elder Princess Smiling Wind told the BIA officials that the Mashpee tribe needs the casino to ''get to where we want to be.''
Coreen Moore, chairman of the tribal housing commission, spoke about the need for the Mashpee land to be put into trust. ''For us to provide safe and affordable housing, we must be able to develop our land on our terms,'' she said.
Land held in federal trust is exempt from state and local taxes and laws.
In his opening remarks, tribal council chairman Shawn Hendricks described the tribe's connection to the Indian museum, meeting house, parsonage and burial ground historic sites that are part of the Mashpee land trust application.
''We have always been a tribe, and this, the scoping meeting, is another step to regaining what is rightfully ours,'' Hendricks said.
The BIA accepted written comments on the tribe's land trust application through April 9. After that, a draft environmental impact statement for the land parcels will be prepared, and the public will have a chance to comment before the report is finalized.
Mashpee residents got another chance to comment on the tribe's land trust proposal at a special town meeting April 7, when residents voted on an intergovernmental agreement with the tribe.
Selectman George ''Chuckie'' Green, who is also a tribe member, said he expected more complaints at that meeting.
A town meeting is a ''whole different ballgame,'' he said.
Copyright (c) 2008, Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.