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Region 1: EPA New England

Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head - Aquinnah

Location and Land status

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head is located at the tip of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. The tribal population consists of approximately 1000 tribal members. The Tribe currently has approximately 531 acres held in trust by the United States. The Tribe received federal recognition from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 1987. The Tribe is located on the coast of New England and its members have traditionally fished and collected the resources along its native seashores.

Tribal Government

The Tribe is governed by a Tribal Council which consists of 11 members including chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary, treasurer and seven council members, all popularly elected. The Chief and Medicine Man are traditional members of the Tribal Council and hold their positions for life.


Consolidated tribal government programs provide important employment opportunities for tribal Members. The Tribal Council oversees a Work Learn program, which places young tribal members in employment positions throughout the community. The Tribe also operates a shellfish hatchery on Menemsha Pond, Martha’s Vineyard that produces oysters raised for commercial sale.

Tourism has become one of the major island businesses due to the influx of visitors to the Island for the summer months. Many tribal individuals and families operate small businesses focused on sales and food items. Due to the seasonal shifts and lack of higher educational opportunities on the Island, many members have moved off the Island out of economic necessity and to pursue further professional educational opportunities.


Maintaining and protecting tribal cultural resources is a top priority of the Tribe. The Tribe has an active Cultural Resource Protection Program, which includes a Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. The Tribe strives to preserve the cultural heritage in many ways. Young tribal members belong to the Noepe Cliff Singers (and dancers), a drumming group that celebrates the Wampanoag heritage. The Natural Resources Department strives to protect, preserve and enhance tribal wildlife and natural resources along with sustaining their environments. Department staff is involved with many aspects of resource protection, which range from beach grass planting to risk assessment. Each aspect of resource protection is viewed from a seven-generation approach. What we accomplish today is done to assure resources are established and protected for the future.

WTGH/EPA Partnerships for Environmental Protection

The WTGH has worked with and partnered with EPA New England since the early 1990's, and was awarded its first environmental assistance award in 1993. The WTGH received approval for Clean Water Act Section 106 on April 4, 1996; on March 17, 2000 the Tribe received TAS approval for the CWA Section 319 grant program. Since 1997, the Tribe has received Performance Partnership Grants (PPGs) from EPA; the PPG process consolidates planning and program funding from several different environmental programs under one assistance agreement to the Tribe. The Tribe and EPA also have an established Tribal Environmental Agreement (TEA) and an approved Quality Management Program (QMP) agreement.

Environmental Accomplishments

The Natural Resources Department has many ongoing projects from environmental education to wetlands assessment and management. The Department operates a state certified laboratory on tribal property, which also serves a water quality-sampling regimen for the Menemsha Pond watershed. The department provides air monitoring and real-time ozone monitoring through an EPA initiative referred to as a Direct Implementation Tribal Cooperative Agreement (DITCA). The data gathered from Tribal lands is important information both regionally and nationally.

The natural resources department has also worked with EPA programs to provide important non point source pollution measures both on and near tribal property to protect the streams, ponds, watersheds and the ocean environment. On tribal property, an oil/grit separator system and a Wetland replication unit has been installed to treat roadway runoff. Both systems significantly reduce heavy metals, petroleum products and inorganic matter. The tribe is currently involved with two projects off reservation property, which impact land and resources important to the Wampanoag Tribe.

The areas of environmental protection that the Tribal program is focusing on include the following: 1) Expanding the capabilities of the Wampanoag Environmental Laboratory; 2) Developing a comprehensive air quality program; 3) Creating a Risk Assessment for the tribal membership based on historic and current sustenance foods; 4) Working with local, state and federal agencies to protect tribal waters and resources from nitrogen loading; 5) develop and implement a well head protection program.

The tribe has a strong interest and concern on the impact to sustenance foods from past, current and future human development. The natural resources department is composed of resource professionals directed to conserve, protect and enhance environmental conditions for the Wampanoag Tribe. The natural resources department is proud to display the successes of the program. These benefits extend to the community, district, state and region.

Serving Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, & 10 Tribal Nations

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