MASHPEE, Mass. — The Massachusetts Indian tribe that shared a historic Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims has finally won official recognition from the federal government.
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, based on Cape Cod, has been trying for 32 years to win federal designation as a sovereign American Indian nation.
Their ancestors were at Plymouth long before the Pilgrims arrived and they shared that first Thanksgiving before war and disease almost destroyed them.
The decision Thursday by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., could help bring casino gambling to Massachusetts. The tribe, however, has agreed not to build a casino on Cape Cod or try to use the courts to take private land. Instead, it wants to build a casino outside its tribal lands, provided Massachusetts changes its laws to allow that.
"It was something that was thoroughly expected," tribe spokesman Scott Ferson told the Boston Globe, "but then in the moment, it carried great suspense."
The federal government acknowledged that the Mashpees had existed as a distinct community since the 1620s. Their ancestors befriended the Pilgrims 400 years ago and, according to tradition, participated in the first Thanksgiving, in 1621.
The tribe dominated the population and politics in Mashpee until the 1960s when development transformed the town and much of the rest of Cape Cod.
"For a tribe that greeted the Pilgrims when they landed on the shores of Massachusetts, this recognition is long overdue," Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said in a statement. "I look forward to working with the tribe to move Massachusetts forward."