Four members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe are campaigning to become the next chairman of the tribal council in an election rescheduled for May 16.

The four candidates for the paramount position within the tribal government include Brian Moskwetah “Bear Heart” Weeden, 28, of Mashpee; Aaron Tobey Jr., 64, of Bourne; Nelson “Red Turtle” Andrews Jr., 44, of Marstons Mills; and Robert Kyle Bassett, 52, of Carver.

The chairman position has remained vacant since the former chairman, Cedric Cromwell, was removed from his post by a vote of the tribal council in November after being indicted on federal charges for his alleged role in a bribery scheme involving the tribe’s plans to build a casino in Taunton.

The election was scheduled to take place by mail-in ballot only, but Mr. Tobey filed a lawsuit in tribal court that questioned the constitutionality of the emergency election procedures put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Thursday, March 11, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal District Court ruled that the election procedures were unconstitutional.

Brian Weeden

Which issues will be most important to you if elected?

The most important issue will be making sure we put our people first and restore the integrity within our community. We can accomplish this through community lead initiatives, general membership meetings, committees, commissions and working together on a strategic plan for the tribe. In addition, we will enact the Ethics Ordinance and Commission, bring back the Constitution Committee for reform, enact a Finance Ordinance and Commission to oversee the tribe’s financials and more. Together we will make our team so strong you can’t tell who the leader is, for our people deserve nothing less.

What experiences have prepared you to lead the tribal council?

They say actions speak louder than words, and actively attending council meetings at the age of 16 or being the founder and chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Youth Council has prepared me. After Youth Council I served on various committees in the tribe and currently serve as the chairperson of the Planning and Land Use Committee. Having also served as trustee and male co-president of the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) or Co-Vice President to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), Youth Commission has given me experience in Indian Country while expanding my leadership abilities.

How will you move the tribe forward after years of legal battles over reservation lands?

Our community needs to heal, and I believe this can be accomplished by electing traditional candidates to bring our people together with their cultural knowledge and spiritual guidance. We have been in this fight for our land for over 400 years, and it is the reason we established the tribal council originally. Our ancestors’ and leadership’s fight has always been about the land, as it is our duty from the Creator to protect Mother Earth for the future generations. We are the land, and the land is a part of us; this is why we are proud to be Mashpee Wampanoags.

Aaron Tobey Jr.

Which issues will be most important to you if elected?

Transparency. I have been actively involved with our tribe for over 30 years, and while I feel that it is a privilege to serve my fellow tribal members, I share with them their frustration with the lack of transparency between the tribal government and tribal members. It’s a shame that tribal members learn more about what’s going on in their tribe from reading the newspaper than from hearing it from the chairman. As chairman, I will be transparent with members and keep them informed about what’s happening within our tribe.

What experiences have prepared you to lead the tribal council?

I have been actively involved with our tribe for well over 30 years. I served on our tribal council as vice chairman and as councilman, and as chairman of the Elders Committee. I have served in state government as a member of the Massachusetts Board of Nursing Home Administrators and in local municipal government as a member of the Bourne Finance Committee and a former member of the town’s bylaws committee. I have leadership experience representing our tribe in Washington, DC, and negotiating our interests with political and business leaders.

How will you move the tribe forward after years of legal battles over reservation land?

The legal battles over our reservation land started in the 1970s with our land claim suit and continues with our land into trust application. Our tribe has suffered some significant attacks upon our standing as a people and as a sovereign nation. Yet we have strong faith and belief that our reservation land will be realized. As chair, I will do the necessary work to have a healthier community and a prosperous economy. My initiatives include a tribal-owned sober living facility; monies for tribal members raising other tribal members’ children; enforced aboriginal fishing and hunting rights; more self-sustenance activities at our farm; and a fully functioning Elders Department. A prosperous community starts with a profitable casino and 8A federally awarded contracts. The profits from these multimillion-dollar businesses will immensely help our tribe.

Nelson Andrews Jr.

Which issues will be most important to you if elected?

Restoration and rebuilding of our tribal community are among the most important issues. We will lead together and look to old ways while focusing on our culture, traditions, history, aboriginal rights and natural resources. We will protect and expand our trust lands and homes while creating economic sustainability beyond gaming ventures, while restoring our image and the integrity of the tribal governing process to improve our quality of life. Enhancement and sustainment our tribal community and sovereignty through a restructured and thoughtful approach that involves each of us while placing the consideration and compassion for one another first is paramount.

What experiences have prepared you to lead the tribal council?

My leadership responsibilities have included Federal Emergency Management Agency logistics chief during Springfield tornadoes; community relations team leader during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy response; branch director for FEMA’s National Incident Management Assistance Team; co-chair of United South & Eastern Tribes homeland security and emergency services committees; vice president of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s community development corporation; and emergency management director and co-tribal administrator for the tribe. I ensured our tribe was first in the region and second in the nation to receive FEMA assistance during the national COVID-19 emergency. I was responsible for administrative plans that FEMA used as well as pandemic and vaccination plans for the tribe. I have achieved more than $4.6 million in awards and assets in five years with a consistent track record of progress and leadership.

How will you move the tribe forward after years of legal battles over reservation land?

A bill similar to the HR 375 for a congressional fix will be needed to help all tribal nations move forward. We will work to ensure that Indian Country does not have to worry about reservation trust lands being disestablished regardless of when a tribe became recognized. To ensure that our land is permanently secure for all future generations, I will help to move our tribe forward through alternative avenues. One avenue is to get Congress to pass the Carcieri fix. With Representative Debra Haaland’s potential confirmation, we will have a very good chance on the Department of Interior side.

Robert Kyle Bassett

Which issues will be most important to you if elected?

I believe that we are facing several issues at the same time, and we will need to address these issues simultaneously because they are all part of the bigger goal of economic prosperity for our people. First, we have to review and weigh all our options regarding the Genting Group; second, we have to work with the Department of the Interior and the incoming secretary to remove any remaining obstacles so that we can continue to move our tribal lands into trust. Third, we have to continue practicing safe behavior regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. There are other issues that are equally important to our people, but any one of these issues can be devastating to our people. The need is great and undeniable.

What experiences have prepared you to lead the tribal council?

In my lifetime, I have acquired many different experiences that I can draw from and use to benefit my tribe as chairperson. First, as a professional law enforcement officer, my character was tested with many temptations and opportunities to enrich myself, and as chairperson I believe I will face these same types of temptations (“the office of the chairperson doesn’t change you; it reveals you”). As a business owner, I had to recognize and create many of my own business opportunities, and with this same skill I will continue to move the tribe forward. We must diversify our opportunities and not be reliant on one opportunity. As a tribal member, I learned the meaning of the word “community” with a shared interest, so we must work with one another to protect our lives and lands.

How will you move the tribe forward after years of legal battles over reservation land?

To move on after a long legal battle we have to seek advice and help from other Indian nations that have had similar situations and learn from their experiences. We have to focus on the positive things that we have as a tribe such as our traditions and customs and ultimately realize that we are not in this alone. We have to identify and look at the core issues of how we got here and learn from them. Then we can start to put together and build on small victories.

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