Tribal Chairman Wins Election with Plurality

By JOSHUA SABATINI

The three-way race for chairman of the Wampanoag tribal council concluded Sunday afternoon with the tribe re-electing incumbent Beverly Wright.

Mrs. Wright will serve a fourth consecutive three-year term. After her victory, Mrs. Wright spoke with the Gazette about her plans for the future.

Mrs. Wright said she wants to create a better communication with the surrounding Island towns and residents of Martha's Vineyard.

"I want to stress," said Mrs. Wright, "that we are a sovereign nation. I want to inform the Island about the things we are doing, but it is not to ask for permission."

Noman's Land is a concern for the tribe, she said. The Department of the Navy is responsible for cleaning it up and the tribe's relationship with this entity can be improved.

"I want to work with the department to initiate an in-depth cleanup of the island," said Mrs. Wright. "They only cleaned up the surface, but we do not know what is leaking into the aquifer or what is being blown by the wind."

Mrs. Wright wants to explore the possibility of using a portion of Noman's Land as a grave site for the tribe, since they have limited land on the Vineyard.

To protect the Wampanoags more effectively from any entity that may come across remains of the tribe, such as during construction, Mrs. Wright wants to establish a Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Such an office exists, but does not have the type of depth Mrs. Wright believes the tribe needs.

Her agenda does not end there. Mrs. Wright said she is working to bolster law enforcement on tribal lands. "We want some form of public service or ranger program so we can establish our own bylaws and enforce them. We need it because we are a nation," said Mrs. Wright.

A structural addition to the tribe could be the Aquinnah Cultural Center, a place designed to serve as a living museum where tribal members can learn their culture and trades such as pottery and bead making, and where tourists can come in and learn about the tribe's history. "We have hired an architect, we have the drawings. The next issue is to find some land and funding," said Mrs. Wright.

For her future plans, there's gaming - an issue that has floated around for many years. "The casino option is something we are still pursuing," said Mrs. Wright. "I think the time is even better now to pursue a casino than it was when we first started."

Mrs. Wright said because the country is in a recession, states are looking for ways to boost the economy. Mrs. Wright cited a recent study, sponsored by the tribe, according to which $900 million is leaving Massachusetts and being spent on the casinos in Connecticut each year. In addition, Mrs. Wright noted that New York State recently approved six more casinos to off-set the debt accrued since the Sept. 11 tragedy.

Opponents to Mrs. Wright pointed out this week that the majority of the tribe's voters sought a change in leadership. Mrs. Wright received 112 votes, while her two opponents, Donald Widdiss and Laurie Perry, picked up 73 and 71 votes for a combined 144.

Mr. Widdiss said the outcome of the race was disappointing. "The votes reflected the will of the people," said Mr. Widdiss. "The majority of the people did not vote for Beverly. The split was a failure of strategy."

Mrs. Wright said the election was proof she was doing a good job, but she agreed the tribe was "fractionalized."

"There are always stability issues. I need to go there and try to bridge that gap," said Mrs. Wright.

Mr. Widdiss pointed out that three of the four tribal members running on Mrs. Wright's slate were losers in Sunday's vote.

The election included contested races for two tribal council positions and the secretary position. Incumbents for the tribal council, Robert McDiarmid and Roque (Billy) Monteiro, lost to Jason Baird and Naomi Carney. Eleanor Hebert remains the secretary after defeating challenger Abigail Jardin.

Mr. Widdiss said that the tribe has "really had no progress in the last 10 years" with Mrs. Wright in the top position. "I don't know what they [the voters] are thinking," said Mr. Widdiss.

One of Mr. Widdiss's concerns for the future of the tribe is its relationship with the community. Mr. Widdiss said that prior to 1991, there was a prevalent spirit of cooperation between the tribe and its neighbors. He has watched the relationship disintegrate over the years. "The tribe should be a major resource on the Island," said Mr. Widdiss. "It should be a friend with the community and not an adversary. I hope what comes out of this election is that Mrs. Wright realizes this and makes some attempt to mitigate some of the negative influences she has had."

Mr. Widdiss said he hopes the vote tallies indicate to Mrs. Wright the need for her to address the number of issues her opponents ran on. "If the new administration is able to steer the tribe in having a more cooperative public relationship, then I think it would be a successful election," said Mr. Widdiss. "If it continues its rancorous activity as in the past, then it will only get worse."

Ms. Perry, without rehashing the issues she campaigned on, reflected on the tribe as a whole. "I ask the tribal members for renewal and unity," said Ms. Perry. "Come together, stop fighting against each other. The tribe is at stake. There are enough outside forces against us without having them inside."

Ms. Perry remains as tribal administrator and she said she will continue to do the work she said she would do if elected chairman.