The city will seek new offers for Aquinnah Circle
The Aquinnah Board of Directors voted unanimously to reinstate the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the 9 Aquinnah Circle property, which came discussed at a previous meeting, in a meeting on Tuesday. This time around, representatives from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Aquinnah Cultural Center will be included in the RFP process.
Two letters have also been sent to the board about the matter, from the center and from Aquinnah Wampanoag President, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais. The letters focused on the use of property, the tribe’s historic relationship to buildings and land, lack of tribal representation, and the right of first refusal.
The right of first refusal is an intergovernmental agreement between Aquinnah and the Aquinnah Wampanoag approved and signed in 2001, stating that city-owned leases will be offered to the tribe first, according to Mike Hebert, a former board member of administration of Aquinnah. In the language of the deal, it was about eight lots, so council member Tom Murphy suggested sending it to the city council first.
Tribal members weighed in on the RFP process and the city’s relationship with the tribe. “Our relationship with the city since I’ve been home has had its ups and downs,” said Aquinnah Wampanoag Councilwoman Kristina Hook. “I’d like to think this would be an opportunity for us to sit down together and try to start treating each other with the respect that every entity deserves…I’m asking the board at least to start this process again.”
Board member Juli Vanderhoop, who is also a member of Aquinnah Wampanoag, said she can see this problem on both sides. Vanderhoop pleaded for the town and tribe to sit down and discuss what would make Aquinnah better. “We’re really trying to make the city a prosperous place, and I think that’s where we start. Coming to the table and having these discussions is really important,” Vanderhoop said.
Aquinnah Wampanoag Councilor Kevin Devine agreed on the need to restore relations between the town and the tribe. “I didn’t realize how fragile the relationship between you and the tribe was in the past, and we’re trying to mend that relationship,” Devine told the board. “I just want everyone to know that we will work with you any way we can.”
Murphy attempted to explain the difficulty of redoing the RFP process. He prefaced by saying he “wants to do the right thing” and is not against the tribe. Murphy went on to say that the RFP process started last November and resulted in Alexandra Taylor winning the bid. Murphy said certain criteria were used to select the winning bid: strong ties to the island community year-round, open for at least six months of the year, providing benefits to the city (eg. g., paying rent, building upgrades, etc.), does not conflict with other cliff businesses. Taylor’s RFP was reviewed by City Council, which approved it.
“The RFP process is a legal process that we as selected board members assume has legal ramifications,” Murphy said, also saying they were unaware of the problems listed by Andrews-Maltais.
Murphy concluded his comments by saying he needs to look at the needs of all Aquinnah residents, and that “obviously there’s a feeling here that we shouldn’t be following the law, that we should be doing something that we’re not supposed to do. There’s no reason not to put this off to another meeting.
Aquinnah Wampanoag member Berta Welch explained that the city hasn’t always figured out how to use Cliff areas properly, such as when a building was given to the center without funding, which led to it being razed. She congratulated Taylor on her offer. Aquinnah Wampanoag member Carol Vandal said respect for the tribe has waned.
“It shouldn’t be a question of whether or not the tribe should have the first offer on the island,” Vandal said. “I have the impression that this island no longer recognizes us. I have been there in the native country. I’ve been on far worse reservations than that. I saw people struggling to survive. We somehow survive.
Vandal went on to say that she also wanted mutual talks between the town and the tribe. However, the history of the tribe should not be forgotten.
Taylor, who grew up in Aquinnah near some tribesmen, said she hoped to create a space where young people could bond. She said not having tribal representatives in the decision-making was a “misstep”.
“Going back to the drawing board on this one, involving the tribal council, seems like the way to go,” Taylor said.