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(Added: Tribe responds to threat of protest at their powwow.) I’ve decided to add to my column rather than writing a new one for the weekend because another example of racism has emerged among those who are trying to stop the Mashpee Wampanoag from building a resort casino here in Middleboro, Mass.
(The two updates are in red at the end of the column.) I’ve been dabbling in small town politics for the last two weeks, and sadly discovered that among a small minority, bigotry is alive and well in our bucolic New England town. Two overheard comments about Native Americans hoping to establish a mega-casino here were especially upsetting: “send them back to the reservation” by one well known resident and “first they let in the blacks, now they want to let in the indians” by an elderly gentleman.
So I did what I could. I helped start a website to compete with the anti-casino website.
The Mashpee Wampanoag, the folks who greeted the Pilgrims and helped them through their first harsh winter, recently received federal recognition as a native American sovereign tribe. As such they are able to set up a gambling operation on their land.
Our town of Middleborough is one of their homelands, where in colonial days they numbered about 22,000, which coincidentally is the population of the town now. Ours is the school largest town by land area in the state. Many of our streets and rivers are Wampanoag names.
Most of the arguments made by opponents of a Mashpee Wampanoag resort casino in Middleboro can be classified into two major groups.
The other is a more generic argument based on the moral and social ramifications of compulsive gambling.
Many of those most vocal in their protests against having the casino here are those that live next to or near the some 400 acres the tribe has purchased or will soon buy.
But unfortunately a few of the arguments have nasty racial overtones.
For example, on their own anti-casino website they list three dire consequences to having the casino here. Third is that it will “strain our schools by introduction of low-wage casino workers who will bring 20+ languages into the school system.”
Horrors upon horrors that our town will host these undesirables!
I have had several candid, truly no holds barred, conversations with several members of the tribe about racism. They have confirmed what I observed. Most of them have had personal experience with prejudice and bigotry right here in progressive Massachusetts.
But it’s funny what a white person, or a person who they think is white but is really native American, overhears, because bigots will say things around us that they’d never say around someone with dark skin.
I even heard second hand that someone, an elementary school teacher no less, complained that the Wampanoag themselves were immigrants. Tell that to the Pilgrims!
Update 5/8/07 Those advising opponents of casino warn them to be prepared for Native American casino supporters to “play the race card”.
What they seem to want to deny is that if there wasn’t a race card in the deck, nobody would play it.
This column was going to move quietly to the archives when I read this in one of our local newspapers today, The Brockton Enterprise (link):
â€œCasinoFacts.orgâ€ the anti-casino group) is ready to stage a silent protest at the Mashpee headquarters during their Pow-Wowâ€ this summer.â€
â€œThey brought us something, we could bring something back to them,â€ said Richard Young.
The Mashpee Wampanoag have been holding their Pow-Wow for some 84 years at their tribal meeting ground on Cape Cod. It attracts native Americans from around the country and thousands of local tourists. (You can see pictures of last year’s Pow-Wow here.)
The Pow-Wow is a celebration of what their Tribal Chairman President Glenn Marshall calls “the hidden culture.” (Reference) It is important to note that American Indian culture has many aspects including an important spiritual side.
From the above reference:
… the grand entry dance at noon each day marks the official start of the day’s activities. The fireball game at dusk Saturday is considered the highlight of the three-day event. For about an hour, native men toss and kick the flaming kerosene-soaked rag ball in an attempt to score on opponents by getting the ball past the goal posts. Believed to be unique to the Mashpee Wampanoag, fireball is more than a game, says tribal historian Patty Oakley. “It’s a healing ritual,” she explains. “The pain you endure takes the pain away from the person you’re playing for.”
Open to natives only, ages 18 and older, fireball is also a rite of passage for Wampanaog males.
Ask yourself whether this is the place to hold a demonstration.
I believe planning to hold a demonstration at the Pow-Wow, silent or otherwise, is far worse than mere insensitivity. It is racism. The statement â€œthey brought us something, we could bring something back to them” sounds to me like the words of a very angry bigot.
But there was more in the very same article:
Marses Belanger said an Indian reservation is governed by tribal law.
â€œWe have no jurisdiction where free alcohol is being served. Do we trust them to police?â€ Belanger asked.
Does this person really believe that in this day and age Native American tribal law is so primitive that they will allow alcohol abuse in their casino? Or does Belanger subscribe to the racist stereotype of the drunken indian?
I wouldn’t be able to live comfortably in this town if I thought any more than a handful of those against the casino harbored intense racial bigotry.
Regardless, I will not remain silent about it when I hear remarks attributed to even a few people.
I have to wonder about the racist attitudes others reveal only to those who they know are of like mind.
The Mashpee Wampanoag reponded to the possiblity of a protest at their annual powwow in the same newspaper where the “threat” was reported.
They invited every resident of Middleboro, but advised those inclined to protest that the invitation comes with “a caveat”:
Tribal Chairman Glenn Marshall, comes with a caveat â€” disruption of the powwow is barred, and protest signs won’t be allowed.
Last week, a group of residents who oppose a potential casino coming to town, discussed a â€œsilent protestâ€ during the tribe’s annual powwow on July 6-8.
â€œThey’ve expressed their views what’s best for our town, let’s express our view what’s best for them,â€ Robert Dunphy suggested to a group of about two dozen casino foes.
The event is meant as a spiritual and religious event for Native Americans, steeped in tradition.
â€œIt’s hard to believe people would disrupt something of such a deep spiritual nature,â€ said Scott Ferson, spokesman for the tribe.
Marshall asked the protesters to leave their signs at home, but to â€œcome and see the tribe, who they are and meet them,â€ Ferson said. (Article continued)