Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Joshua L. Reid

Second Advisor

Conevery Bolton Valencius

Third Advisor

Jonathan Chu


Tenacious of Their Lands is a focused micro-history of legal action and government formation in the Mashpee Wampanoag community of Cape Cod from 1834 to 1842. In March of 1834, the Massachusetts legislature incorporated Mashpee as an Indian district establishing self-government by the people, ending direct guardianship by the state. The Act to Establish the District of Mashpee articulated the tribe's rights to government, management of resources, and title to their land. However, the decision fell short of addressing equally pressing issues for the tribe: the right to appoint a minister of their choosing, access to the parsonage lands, and rightful control of the meetinghouse. A center for governance and worship, the meetinghouse represented the heart of contested space at Mashpee. Drawing on a longstanding history of political progress, strong advocacy, and community action, the newly formed district entered a period of coalescence and change. Decision-making by Mashpee leadership--including the enactment of by-laws, litigation in the Massachusetts courts, and appeals to the legislature--worked to strengthen the existing act and address outstanding issues for the community. Energized by a change in their legal status through an assertion of their own agency and the establishment of a Native-led government, the leadership at Mashpee undertook deliberate actions to fortify the community in the early district period.


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