Wampanoag move past disgraced leader with new Chair

By Ken MaGuire
Mashpee, Massachusetts (AP) 9-07

Shawn W. Hendricks, newly selected chairman for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, center, reads a statement during a media availability at his introduction in Aug. 29, 2007. Tribal elder and council member Nellie Ramos, left, and Mashpee Wampanoag Pow-Wow Princess Brailyn Frye , right, flank Hendricks. AP Photo by Stephan Savoia

The Mashpee Wampanoag’s newest chairman said Aug. 29, he can shepherd his tribe on the path to opening a $1 billion casino, despite challenges including a governor who has yet to endorse expanded gambling to efforts by some tribe members to unseat him.

Shawn Hendricks was elevated to the post when then-chairman Glenn Marshall acknowledged that he lied to Congress about his military record, and that he was convicted of rape in 1981 – serving three months of a five-year sentence.

The revelations came at a critical time for the tribe, whose plans for a resort casino may rest with on-the-fence lawmakers and Gov. Deval Patrick, who appears close to announcing a decision on whether Massachusetts should expand gambling to allow one of more casinos.

Hendricks sought to reassure both the public and his own tribe that he’s in charge and vowed to press on. The tribe on Aug. 30, filed paperwork asking the federal government to place its land into trust – a necessary step before a tribe can build a gambling facility.

“We ask the United States government to allow us to map our destiny as a sovereign nation,” said Hendricks, a married father of three young children who at one time worked as a nightclub bouncer.

Patrick, who made a surprise visit to Mashpee when the tribe celebrated its federal recognition this spring, has said he would announce his gambling position around Labor Day. The Democratic governor has proposed a series of expensive projects, including free community college and commuter rail extensions, but hasn’t identified funding sources – all while gambling supporters say Massachusetts loses out on revenue to two resort casinos in Connecticut.

Marshall had become a skilled spokesman for the tribe, and personally lobbied lawmakers and Patrick. Hendricks said he hasn’t been in touch with the governor’s office, but said the tribal council’s swift removal of Marshall should prove to skeptics that he’s a worthy leader.

“I believe I’m an honest person. I’ve worked hard for the tribe for more than seven years,” he said.

Hendricks looked the part Aug. 29, wearing a long-sleeved dress shirt that covered his chiseled upper body and tattooed arms. But he didn’t display Marshall’s polished public relations skills when at one point he said: “I’m not sure that it is absolutely the best thing for the tribe, but it’s an engine out there that we need to stay focused on. It’s an entitlement that we have as a sovereign nation.”

A spokesman, funded through the tribe’s investors, later explained that Hendricks is fully supportive of a casino, because gambling is among the few options the tribe has to generate revenue for things like health care and education.

Marshall’s sudden departure – has opened the door to renewed criticism of the tribe’s financial dealings.

Tribe member Steve Bingham, who long questioned Marshall’s reluctance to open the tribe’s books for full viewing, is collecting signatures to recall Hendricks and the entire tribal council.

“I feel that our tribe is being hijacked,” Bingham said in an interview outside his mother’s Mashpee home.

His mother, Amelia Bingham, said she and her son don’t oppose a casino, but worry the 1,500-member tribe will see little of the revenues.

“We have investors that are taking the lead for our tribe. They are dictating everything about our tribe. That’s not the Indian way,” she said.

In the tribe’s petition to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, it asks that 539 acres in Middleborough and 140 acres in Mashpee be taken into trust. The Middleborough site would contain a casino, as well as a hotel, restaurants, entertainment venues, convention facilities, a golf course and a water park, according to the petition.

The tribe is relying in part on the financial backing of developers of the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. Developers Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman – known as Trading Cove Mashpee – can provide as much as $1 billion in capital for the proposed development, according to the tribe. The two are no longer involved in Mohegan Sun, one of the world’s largest casinos. Contracts between the tribe and investors are private.

Hendricks, backed Wednesday by about 150 tribe members at a news conference at tribal headquarters on Cape Cod, and said he’s not worried about a recall.

“If that happens, then it happens,” he said, adding that he shouldn’t be judged by Marshall’s “personal issues.” Marshall was in his second four-year term. The next scheduled election is 2008.

“They’re going to believe that my intentions are real or they’re going to feel that I’m still under his thumb, which is not true,” he said.