Wampanoags lose a battle

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A land-claims settlement which would provide the Wampanoag Indians of Gay Head, Mass., 435 acres of land has been jeopardized by a finding by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) that the Gay Head Indians do not qualify for tribal status. The Reagan administration promised to support a bill in Congress providing half of the $3 million cost of the land on the island of Martha's Vinyard if the Indians won recognition as a tribe. Massachusetts had agreed to provide the other $1.5 million.

Henry Sockbeson, attorney for the Indians, said he would take advantage of the right to appeal the BIA decision.

The land agreement was reached in 1983 in an attempt to settle a 1974 federal court suit in which the Indians claimed tribal land was taken from them by the state of Massachusetts in violation of federal law.

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Ross O. Swimmer, head of the BIA, said the Wampanoags failed to meet two criteria for tribal status: a sense of community, and political authority over members. They met five other criteria, including being Indians, belonging to no other tribe, maintaining a list of tribal members, and having specific membership requirements.

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