On the eve of the fast-approaching federal court date to argue the right to operate a Class II gaming facility on its Martha’s Vineyard reservation in Massachusetts, the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe recently elected a new leader.

After a three-year absence, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais will once again be assuming the leadership role of the federally recognized Wampanoag Tribe Of Gay Head (Aquinnah). Andrews-Maltais replaces Tobias Vanderhoop, who was elected in November 2013 after defeating the newly elected chair. During her absence from the chair’s post, Andrews-Maltais held a Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) senior advisor position.

Winning with 115 of the 190 ballots that were counted, Andrews-Maltais handily beat out her running-mate Donald Widdiss, who received 67 votes, according to The Martha’s Vineyard Times. The candidates varied in their perspectives regarding whether or not the tribe should build a casino on its reservation in Aquinnah; turning the unfinished community center there into a Class II gaming facility. A central issue for the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe, in May 2011 it voted to do just that. The following year, a second ballot on the issue resulted in another favorable vote, but with a narrower margin. The tribal chairman at that time, Andrews-Maltais has been a proponent of the casino, while Widdiss took a more guarded approach in his response during an interview the day prior to the tribal election. He said, “It’s our responsibility to look at every opportunity. We have to assess its viability. Until it’s a real opportunity, we have to pursue assessment,” according to the news agency.

Work by the tribe on the 6,500 square foot community center had to cease after the state, along with the town and the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association filed a lawsuit in 2013 in an attempt to halt the tribe’s efforts. The most recent round of proceedings sided with the opponents of the casino, as Judge Frank Dennis Saylor from the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled that the tribe could not follow the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, but must instead submit to the Massachusetts Settlement Act of 1987. In exchange for the tribe’s compliance with local and state laws, including gaming prohibitions, the act passed by Congress provides the tribe with 485 acres in the town of Aquinnah.

On December 6, the tribe will ask the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston to overturn that decision, arguing that that Saylor erred in his ruling as the IGRA, which became law in 1988, pre-empts and “implicitly repealed” the provisions of the Massachusetts Settlement Act.

Not to be confused, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on Martha’s Vineyard is one of two federally recognized tribes of the Wampanoag people in Massachusetts; the other being the Mashpee Wampanoag in Cape Cod. The Mashpee Wampanoag had a land into trust application approved, paving the way for their Project First Light Casino & Resort on the mainland in Taunton. But that project is also stalled due to legal challenges.

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