In Massachusetts, the federally-recognized Wampanoag Tribe Of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is set to head to federal appeals court in December in order to again argue for its right to operate a Class II gaming facility on its Martha’s Vineyard reservation.

According to a report in the Vineyard Gazette newspaper, the tribe is fighting the state, a local community group and the town of Aquinnah in its efforts to bring electronic bingo terminals to its unfinished 6,500 sq ft community center on the island and is to put its case before the United States Court Of Appeals For The First Circuit in Boston on December 6.

Elements of the tribe’s struggle date back to the 1970s when it filed a lawsuit against Aquinnah in order to obtain certain rights to aboriginal lands located within the town. The Wampanoag Tribe Of Gay Head (Aquinnah) reached a settlement in 1983 that gave it about 400 acres of land in exchange for agreeing to submit to local and state zoning laws and forfeit other land and water claims.

This was followed in 1987 by the federal endorsement of the Massachusetts Settlement Act that decreed that the Wampanoag Tribe Of Gay Head (Aquinnah) lands were subject to state rules “including those laws and regulations which prohibit or regulate the conduct of bingo or any other game of chance”.

However, 1988 saw Congress pass the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which allows the federal government to independently sanction Class I and Class II gaming facilities without state approvals, with the tribe beginning construction on its community center in 2004. The Wampanoag Tribe Of Gay Head (Aquinnah) assert that this final piece of legislation supersedes its 1983 settlement while its authority to construct and operate a Class II gaming facility has been affirmed by the Interior Solicitor and the National Indian Gaming Commission.

But, the state disagrees and joined with the town and the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association in 2013 to file a lawsuit designed to stop the tribe from operating electronic bingo terminals. Last year’s most recent round of proceedings saw Judge Frank Dennis Saylor from the United States District Court For The District Of Massachusetts rule against the Wampanoag Tribe Of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and decree that it must submit to the Massachusetts Settlement Act.

The Vineyard Gazette reported that the tribe intends to argue at the United States Court Of Appeals For The First Circuit that Saylor erred in his ruling as the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act pre-empts and “implicitly repealed” the provisions of the Massachusetts Settlement Act.

Should the tribe fail in its action, the newspaper further reported that the Wampanoag Tribe Of Gay Head (Aquinnah) could be asked to re-pay some or all of the $1.1 million in grants it received from the United States Department Of Housing And Urban Development in order to construct the proposed electronic bingo terminal venue.

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