Chairman Cedric Cromwell, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, speaking in front of the U.S. Capitol during the Reservation Economic Summit. June 16, 2015; Washington, D.C.

Cedric Cromwell: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

Dennis Zotigh

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.

Can you share with us your Native name and its English translation?

It's Qaqeemasq. It means Running Bear.

Where is your tribe located? 

We're in Mashpee, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod.

Where was your tribe originally from?

We have always been here, for over 12,000 years. We were here when the Pilgrims touched the shores in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and we are still here and have a significant presence today. 

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?

A significant time for our tribe was in 2007 when we received federal recognition after 35 years of working and waiting for the process to be completed. Many people from the area and beyond celebrated with us, including the late Ted Kennedy, U.S. senator from Massachusetts and brother of President John F. Kennedy.

How is your tribal government set up?

Our tribal government is council-run. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council is made up of 13 members. The council is led by four officers—chairman, vice chair, secretary, and treasurer. Of the nine other sitting members, two are our chief and medicine man. All council members are voted in by our membership at tribal elections.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

We have a Chief’s Circle that provides counsel to tribal members regarding family and community concerns for healing and medicine. We also have peacemakers who work to resolve disputes among tribal members to avoid the legal process.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

We have elections every four years. The terms are staggered to avoid ever having an entirely new council.

How often does your council meet?

Tribal Council meets weekly, mostly during the evening though there are some all-day meetings. Our tribe holds a meeting of the general membership every second Sunday of the month.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

At an early age, my mother would bring my brother and me to all the tribal meetings. She was the tribal secretary for 35 years and at that time was responsible for keeping all the historical tribal records. There were even times when I would be sitting on her lap in the meetings. So I was exposed to tribal government at a very early age. I guess you could say being a member of the tribal government was in my blood.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

I have the same responsibilities as the president of the United States. We are considered to be a nation, and as leader I am expected to oversee the workings of this nation. I meet with community leaders on behalf of the tribe. I meet with Congress and many U.S. government agencies. I meet with Commonwealth of Massachusetts representatives and senators. I have been involved in the public school system to ensure our Native children are being well served. Our council has also been instrumental in securing our tribal rights for hunting, fishing, and gathering and seeing that these rights have been upheld in our community and the surrounding towns.

To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.

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