February 23, 2007

Seaconke Chief Sees Mills Landfill As Site for Bingo Hall

By Philip Marcello; Journal Staff Writer

This story of statewide business interest previously appeared in a local news section.

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Wilfred Greene says that possession of land in the tribe's ancestral territory in Cumberland will strengthen its case for federal recognition.

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CUMBERLAND - Wilfred Greene, the Seaconke Wampanoag Indian chief who recently acquired the old J.M. Mills landfill, intends to seek federal recognition of his tribe and says his goal is to open a high- stakes bingo hall in town.

The 70-year-old former Foxwoods Resort Casino poker dealer filed a letter of intent in 1997 on behalf of the 200-member tribe with the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs, but never followed through with the application.

He now says that possession of land in the tribe's ancestral territory will strengthen its case for federal recognition, as it did for the Mashantucket Pequots, owners of Foxwoods in Ledyard Conn., who began their quest for recognition with a 26-acre reservation.

"We have enough going for us with our genealogy and history for federal recognition, and now, with this land, we are ready to move forward" with an application, said Greene, who is also known as Chief Eagle Heart.

Federal recognition is a formal process necessary for groups to receive protection, services and benefits from the government as an Indian tribe, including the right to open gaming halls and casinos.

The tribe's land acquisition and its intent comes as the federal government recently recognized as an Indian tribe the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribe of Cape Cod, one of a dozen Wampanoag clans that is unaffiliated with the Seaconke Wampanoags.

In late December, Greene received the old J.M. Mills landfill and a riverfront property from Patrick T. Conley, an East Providence lawyer and professor emeritus at Providence College noted for purchasing tax-sale properties for major developments.

J.M. Mills landfill was a solid-waste dump, formerly owned by the Marzalkowski family, that is part of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site.

Located in the village of Berkeley, south of the Martin Street Bridge, Greene's land consists of a razor-thin five-acre parcel between the Blackstone River, the Providence & Worcester railroad tracks and the landfill, which is 50 acres between Mendon Road and the river that is bisected by the railroad tracks.

Conley purchased the land, which has a combined tax-assessed value of $305,000, for about $11,000 at an August 2005 fire- district tax sale before officially turning the deeds over to the Seaconke Tribe of the Wampanoag Indians Inc. this month.

"From the start, I had the Wampanoags in mind," said Conley, whose youngest son, Thomas, a Cumberland High School graduate, is Greene's godchild. "It was purchased to further the project of a lifelong friend and help in [the Seaconke Wampanoag's] quest for federal recognition."

Greene, who owned a paving company in Warwick, said that the state recognized the Wampanoags as a tribe in 1936, but like most Wampanoag clans, it lacks the all-important federal recognition.

The federal government requires that groups seeking recognition as a tribe meet seven criteria, including proof that the group has existed as a community from historical times to the present and proof that the majority of the group not already belong to another North American Indian tribe.

The Seaconke Wampanoags last made headlines when they lost their claim to ownership of 34 acres in Cumberland and eastern Woonsocket in U.S. District Court in November 2003.

Greene asserted that a 1661 deed showed that the Wampanoags had been granted the land, but the court ruled that the tribe had missed its window to claim that land by 24 years. The U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's ruling in February 2005.

Mayor Daniel J. McKee said the town would be willing to become partners with anyone willing to bring in federal money to rehabilitate the contaminated site and bring it back into the town's tax rolls, but he was skeptical that anything could be safely built on the site.

"It's a property that people in the past have wanted to clean their hands of," McKee said. "By today's standards, with its proximity to water and the environmental concerns, it has a marginal use at best."

Conley countered: "That the land is environmentally challenged is no question. But to say that there is no terra firma on which to build a building on 50 acres is ludicrous. It's the size of* downtown Providence."

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