The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe celebrated the completion of its beautiful new government and community center building in Mashpee, Massachusetts by throwing a grand opening party for hundreds of its friends.
The event took place on the last Saturday in March, a cold and rainy day that didn’t at all dampen the spirit of the crowd that came to celebrate the tribe’s achievement.
“It’s truly amazing,” Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell told Indian Country Today Media Network. “This government/community center is epic for the universe of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. It’s a hub for the well-being of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. Not only is it a community center where the tribe will convene but the community’s going to come here and see their state-of-the-art world-class building where their programs and services are delivered by their tribal government. And it also brings our culture forward into the mainstream and, you know, if you’re not considered mainstream it’s mind over matter – you don’t matter so they don’t mind. Part of the mission I’ve been on is making sure we do matter so it’s a proud day for the Mashpee Wampanoag.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony began outside the front door of the huge new building with a welcome by Cromwell and an honor song by the Wakeby Lake Drum. The Drum lead a procession to a big white tent where the Lady Hawk Singers sang another honor song followed by prayers by Medicine Man Guy “Soaring Eagle” Cash and Mashpee Vice Chairwoman Jessie Little Doe Baird. Traditional Chief Vernon “Silent Drum” Lopez welcomed everyone and a massive lunch of clam chowder, turkey, side dishes and desserts was served to the hundreds of guests. There were countless speeches, acknowledgments, and gift giving and after lunch there were tours of the government/community center led by young tribal members.
The $12.7 million three-level building is approximately 46,000 square feet total. Funding was provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which sent a delegation of people who has worked on the project to the celebration. “It’s great to see this wonderful progress. Some of us remember quite a few trailers here just short time ago,” Jay Healy, USDA’s regional director, said. “We’ve enjoyed working with a great team from the tribe. Hard work and perseverance made this possible and we just lent the money… Days like today make it all worth the effort and make us proud to work for USDA.”
The center was built on approximately seven acres of an existing parking area, minimizing the amount of land clearing that was needed. In addition, there were no wetlands on the site. The tribe wanted to maintain as much of the natural environment as possible, Cromwell said.
The center has 39 offices (both shared and individual) and around 34 cubicles and houses several tribal departments including language, housing, social services, judicial, medical assistance programs, tribal enrollment, the elders’ lounge and offices, archives, classrooms, kids craft area, and a huge gymnasium and exercise space. The tribe’s health and dental clinics are in other buildings on the site.
RKB Architects incorporated many culturally significant elements into the design of the building, the most prominent being the roof structure at the main entrance of the building, which is modeled after a turtle shell.
“It represents Turtle Island. Turtle Island is Indian country – strong, steady, wise and consistent,” Cromwell said. “We endure, we remain, we still live here. If you think about the first contact, our turtle shell has been so strong in providing protection around who we are as Mashpee Wampanoags in continuing our plight and our fight forward as a tribal nation.”
Brackets of cedar, a traditional material used by the tribe for shelter, are featured on the building’s exterior. The window mullions are designed to suggest the spirituality of a figure with arms uplifted in prayer. And the terrazzo floor of the rotunda entrance is embedded with over 700 pounds of wampum that was processed by tribal members.
Tribal government employees moved into the new space at the end of February when construction was officially completed.
“This building is so encompassing of who we are and we’re tremendously excited about it,” Cromwell said.