Mashpee tribe celebrates renaissance

By: Amy Anthony

FALMOUTH — The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has many reasons to celebrate, including what tribe officials are calling “a new beginning.”

That was the theme of the 18th annual Mashpee Wampanoag Ball held Saturday evening at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel, where tribe members and guests, dressed in eye-catching evening wear, were ready to celebrate and to honor four award recipients for their contributions.

“Our tribe is going through a renaissance,” said Cedric Cromwell, the tribal council chairman.

In January, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the tribe’s gaming compact with Massachusetts, bringing it one step closer to the completion of a casino in the state.

Last month, the construction of a community and government center at 483 Great Neck Road was completed, a celebration for which will be held March 29.

The tribe’s housing and scholarship programs are also expanding, said Cromwell.

“It’s an amazing, epic time,” Cromwell said. “You can feel the excitement in the air.”

After a rousing drum ceremony by the Wakeby Lake Singers and the recital of an opening prayer, four awards were given: the Lewis Gurwitz Spirit Award; the Wampanoag Business and Professional Leadership Award; the Alice May Lopez Award for Advocacy and Volunteerism; and the Osamequen Award, perhaps the most prestigious of the evening.

“It represents someone who’s worked hard at preserving our culture,” said Patricia “Trish” Keli’inui, a tribal councilwoman who helps organize the ball.

This year’s Osamequen recipient was David Weeden, a Mashpee resident and tribal member who works on archeological projects of significant importance to the tribe.

“I’m willing to do whatever the tribe needs me to do,” said Weeden, a father of three. “The (Wampanoag) community instilled a lot in me.”

While the Osamequen Award recognizes contributions by a tribal member, the Lewis Gurwitz award recognizes a nontribal member’s contributions.

This year’s recipient, Judi Urquhart, has raised more than $1 million for the tribe’s Wopanaak Language Reclamation Project, which aims to revive the tribe’s ancestral language.

Urquhart has been a member of the project’s board since 2007.

“It’s nice to get recognition,” Urquhart said.