The last great North American glacier began its retreat some 10,000 years ago, leaving behind the accumulation of boulders, sand, and clay that is now known as Martha's Vineyard. The ancestors of Wampanoag people have lived for at least 10,000 years at Aquinnah (Gay Head) and throughout the island of Noepe (Martha's Vineyard), pursuing a traditional economy based on fishing and agriculture. The Aquinnah Wampanoag share the belief that the giant Moshup created Noepe and the neighboring islands, taught our people how to fish and to catch whales, and still presides over our destinies. Our beliefs and a hundred million years of history are imprinted in the colorful clay cliffs of Aquinnah.
Some 400 years ago Europeans reached Noepe in sufficient numbers to leave a record, and by the 1700's there were English settlements over most of the island. Our presence was quickly felt, and between, the dislocation from land dealings, and the influence of disease, our populations were reduced and our territories constricted. By the 1800's there remained but three native communities on Martha's Vineyard: Aquinnah, Christiantown, and Chappaquiddick. Aquinnah being the most populous and organized, we were able to maintain control over our land, despite intense efforts by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to end our existence. Over the past 100 years more and more native land has been lost as changes in the local economy forced tribal members to sell their lands, move to other parts of the island, or to leave the island altogether.
Aquinnah was at different times in history referred to as a "praying town," an Indian District, and an incorporated town. Throughout it all we remain a sovereign tribe.
In 1972 the "Wampanoag Tribal Council of Gay Head, Inc." was formed to promote self-determination, to ensure preservation and continuation of Wampanoag history and culture, to achieve federal recognition for the tribe, and to seek the return of tribal lands to the Wampanoag people. The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) became a federally acknowledged tribe on April 10, 1987 through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
The Wampanoag trust lands are located in the southwest portion of Martha's Vineyard Island in the town of Gay Head. In accordance with 1987 Settlement Act with the federal government there are approximately 485 acres of Tribal Lands purchased (160 acres private and approximately 325 acres common lands). The common lands include the Gay Head Cliffs, Herring Creek, and Lobsterville, and the private lands include parcels I, IIA, IIB, and III (see map). Other land owned by the Tribe include parcels in Christiantown and Chappaquiddick. A master plan of Wampanoag Tribal Lands was developed in 1993 for approximately 160 acres of the Wampanoag Tribal Trust Land, comprising of parcels I, IIA, IIB, and III. The Master Plan followed several years of investigative efforts and illustrates the present vision of the future tribal community in Gay Head.
TRIBE/TOWN EMERGENCY SERVICES AGREEMENT
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Town of Gay Head entered into agreement in June of 1995 to jointly provide for the health, safety and welfare of persons on Tribal Lands by providing for the use of police, fire, and medical personnel and resources in the event of disaster, disorder, fire or other emergencies arising on Tribal Lands. The Town is working with the Tribe to make trained and experienced Public Safety Officials and personnel readily available on Tribal Lands to provide increased protection for persons and property on Tribal Lands, until such time as the Tribe can provide these services for its tribal members. The Tribe's Aquinnah Rangers are EMT certified and provide services for both Tribal Lands and the up-island communities.