The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) received Federally Acknowledgement as an Indian Tribe in 1987, creating a government-to-government relationship with the U.S. federal government. Currently 1327 members are enrolled, of which 300+ live on tribal lands in the Town of Aquinnah and the remainder live within the Tribe’s service area.
Location and Land Status
The Aquinnah Tribal Lands are located at the southwestern portion of Martha’s Vineyard, a 93 square mile island located six miles south of mainland Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and 80 miles directly south of Boston. The Tribe owns approximately 481 acres of land, including approximately 160 acres of private and 325 acres of common lands. See maps of Tribal Lands and Martha’s Vineyard at: (Natural Resource site hotlink)
The Aquinnah Wampanoag own tracts of their traditional homelands, including the famous Aquinnah Clay Cliffs, cranberry bogs, a herring run and some acreage that has been used for the development of the tribal neighborhood and a multi-purpose building. A majority of these tracts are held in Trust status by the United States Department of Interior on behalf of the Tribe, while a smaller portion of lands are held in Fee status by the Tribe itself.
Because of sensitivity to the area's wetlands and historical and archeological sites, only 98 acres of the Wampanoag land base is developable. Through the efforts of the Tribe, a land use master plan was developed in 1993 for the careful development and protection of tribal lands. Based on the land use plan the Tribe has constructed a multi-purpose community facility that provides space for public gatherings and social functions, as well as space for its government offices and programs (health services, human services, education, natural resources, economic development, trust services, historic preservation and planning), and has developed over 30 units of affordable housing.
Culture and History
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is one of several remaining tribes of the Wampanoag Nation. The Wampanoag Nation was comprised of over 60 tribes that resided in southeastern Massachusetts for thousands of years. The Nation occupied a territory that bordered on present day Boston to the north, extending west to Warren, Rhode Island, and south and east to the coast of Cape Cod, including Martha’s Vineyard (Noepe) and Nantucket Islands. The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe is located on the western end of Martha's Vineyard, within the Town of Aquinnah (formerly called the town of Gay Head). In recognition of the strong Indian presence in the town, The town changed its name to Aquinnah in 1998, meaning "end of the island", the traditional Wampanoag designation for the western part of the island.
The Aquinnah Wampanoag have remained on the island’s western peninsula, having minimal interaction with others following the arrival of the first European settlers on Martha's Vineyard (Noepe) in the early part of the 17th Century. The peninsula, once known to European seafarers as Gay Head for the multi-colored clay cliffs on its shores, was changed from an Indian District into a town by vote of the Massachusetts General Court in 1870. Since that time, the Aquinnah Wampanoag have remained very active in town government while maintaining a distinct tribal government as well. In 1987, the Tribe obtained federal acknowledgement by an act of the U.S. Congress (P.L. 100-95). A copy of Wampanoag Tribal Council of Gay Head, Inc., Indian Claims Settlement Act and the Final Determination for Federal Acknowledgement of the Wampanoag Tribal
Council of Gay Head, Inc. are available from the Planning Library.
The Aquinnah Wampanoag people continue to thrive on Martha's Vineyard, holding on to traditions and taking strides toward economic self-sufficiency. The Aquinnah Wampanoag continue to pass on their culture and knowledge to the younger generations through a rich oral tradition and also practice annual celebrations such as Cranberry Day Harvest in October, a Spring Social in April, and the performance of the "Legend of Moshup" pageant for the general public in July and August.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is governed by a popularly elected Tribal Council. The eleven member Council is elected for three-year staggered terms and includes a Chairperson, Vice-chairperson, Secretary and Treasurer. In addition, the traditional positions of Chief and Medicine man are life-long Council members. Meetings are open to all tribal members.