October 17, 1978

Mashpee Indians Sue for Recognition

Region:
Southeast

On this day in 1978, a trial began on Cape Cod to determine whether the Mashpee Indians met the legal definition of a tribe. If they did, they could sue for the return of land granted to them in 1685. With huge amounts of undeveloped land at stake, Mashpee's non-Indian residents hired lawyers. The defense argued that the Mashpee Wampanoag had intermarried with so many different groups over the years that they were no longer genetically the same people as the original Mashpee. The lawyers also claimed that the Mashpee had not maintained their traditions. After a 40-day trial, the judge declared that the Mashpee Wampanoag did not meet the legal definition of a tribe and therefore had no standing to sue. The case was dismissed.

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