Tribes dispute reservation where a $1B casino is planned

Full Screen
1 / 8

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Larry Fisher, chief sachem of the Mattakeeset Massachuset tribe, sings and drums a traditional song honoring their land and ancestry at Titicut Indian Reservation, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Bridgewater, Mass. A rift has been widening between Native American groups in New England over a federal reservation south of Boston where one tribe is planning to build a $1 billion casino. The Mattakeeset Massachuset tribe contend the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe doesn't have exclusive claim to the lands under their planned First Light casino in the city of Taunton, as they've argued for years. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

BOSTON – A rift is widening between Native American groups in New England over who has claim to scores of acres south of Boston where one tribe has been trying for years to build a $1 billion casino.

The recently revived Mattakeeset Massachuset Tribe argues it’s the rightful heir to the land in Taunton set aside by the federal government for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which is planning to build a hotel, casino and entertainment complex.

The Mattakeesets want the Mashpees and state and local authorities to recognize their land claim, which they base on colonial-era documents.

“They blatantly fooled the whole entire country about this land belonging to them,” said Larry Fisher, who has been working to revive the tribe since becoming its chief sachem in 2014, of the Mashpees. “We just want the truth to be told. It belongs to us. The Mattakeesets.”

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which famously traces its ancestry to the Native Americans who shared a fall harvest with the Pilgrims 400 years ago, counter that Fisher’s group is just a smaller band within the broader Wampanoag people who have inhabited Massachusetts for thousands of years.

The Mattakeeset Tribe currently has a few hundred members, according to Fisher, but does not have federal recognition or a land base like the Mashpee Tribe, which was federally recognized in 2007 and has roughly 3,000-members.

“Larry is well-meaning but very confused,” said Steven Peters, the Mashpee Tribe’s spokesman. “The Mattakeesets and the Massachusets are Wampanoags.”

The dustup is the latest wrinkle in the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s tortured, years-long quest for federally protected land — and the lucrative rights to build a tax-exempt casino on it.