MASHPEE – After ceremonies ended in which the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe celebrated the opening of a new Tribal Community and Government Center, Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell said, “We have a true renaissance right now. This amazing state-of-the art building is the hub of our tribal universe.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday was the start of a day of celebration and reflection, of looking backward and forward for the Tribe, whose ancestors have lived in Mashpee for 12,000 years.
“This is a long time coming, said Guy Cash, the Tribal Medicine Man, during the ceremony. “A lot of our elders, a lot of our people are gone before this building was put here.” He reflected on ancestors, wildlife, trees and the land. “This is something in Mashpee that is ours,” he said. “This is something to be proud of.”
The new 46,000-square foot building, will serve as a cultural center, government center, and community health center, said United States Congressman William Keating, who was one of several dignitaries who attended the opening ceremony. Keating praised the “inter-generational setting” of the center and stressed the importance of the community health care.
The services provided at this one center were previously spread out and in aging double-wide trailers, said Cromwell.
“It’s been needed,” said Keating. “They’ve been doing these things out of trailers. And not unimportant, there are 90 permanent jobs. There is a benefit all the way around.”
The building also has an Elder Center, a food pantry and a gymnasium. Several Tribe departments will be housed at the center, including Tribal Administration and Council, Tribal Court, Tribal Library and Archives, Language, Housing, Social Services, Historical Preservation, Natural Resources, and Membership Workforce Training and Education, according to a Tribe press release.
The federal government helped fund the building, said Keating. “It’s an obligation,” he said. “You can’t forget our history.”
The United States Department of Agriculture gave the Tribe a low-interest $12.7 million loan to help build the center, said Jennifer Lerch, Native American Coordinator for USDA. Plans for the center were in place in the mid 2000s, said Lerch, but after the economic collapse of 2007-2008, the plans were shelved. “The plan was literally collecting dust on a shelf.”
In 2010, according to Lerch, Cromwell spoke of the Tribe’s struggles to get the building built at an event she attended. “I told him, I think I may be able to help.”
The funding came through and now the building is open. Former Congressman William Delahunt said, before the ceremony, “This is really a historic moment in the history of this Tribe. This is the beginning of a new era.”
And Lerch said, “It’s monumental.”
Cromwell and many others seemed to be smiling the entire day, “This is a great day,” was a common refrain.
After the ribbon cutting, there was a drum-led procession from the new building to a large white tent which was set up to accommodate the large gathering. Inside the tent, after a ceremony that included prayers and chants, people feasted on a great spread of food that started with oysters. Afterward, there were guided tours of the new building.
During the ceremony, Cash said, “We have come a long way in our hearts and who we are as a people. We no longer are the silent Indian. We are here because we are strong Wampanoag people.”
— Brian Tarcy