Members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) sent a strong message about their desire for change last week, voting by a wide margin to elect Tobias Vanderhoop as the new chairman of the tribal council.
Mr. Vanderhoop has been deeply involved in tribal affairs for many years. A former tribal administrator, he is an advocate of education and economic development for the People of the First Light. More importantly, however, he seems to know how to listen. His candidacy invigorated a contingent of young tribal members who rallied to help him unseat two-term chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais.
Mrs. Cheryl-Andrews Maltais has been a forceful proponent of gaming. She worked hard to have the Aquinnah tribe considered for the one state casino license earmarked for an Indian tribe, then made headlines with her announcement that the tribe would build a casino on the Vineyard sometime in the next few months.
The casino question remains unsettled. Two legal opinions from federal government agencies released by Mrs. Andrews-Maltais last week declare that the tribe is within its rights to build a casino on the Vineyard. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and the Aquinnah town attorney disagree. The prospect of a court battle on that topic loomed large last week, but appears to be somewhat more distant now with the election of Mr. Vanderhoop, who has said he supports some kind of gaming, but wants to do what is appropriate.
Few would say that a casino on the Vineyard is appropriate, especially in the tiny town of Aquinnah. But beyond the noisy news of casinos and far more important, Mr. Vanderhoop has pledged a new era of openness and fence-mending between the town and the tribe.
That is the right place to begin and the new chairman will have a big job to do when he takes the helm in January for the next three years.
Welcome, Tobias Vanderhoop.