Health | Federal Recognition

IHS plans to expand service area for Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe

The clay cliffs in Aquinnah, Massachusetts, the home of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe. Photo from Wikipedia

The Indian Health Service is proposing to expand the service delivery area for the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts, reversing course from a decision earlier in the Obama administration.

The island of Martha's Vineyard in Dukes County is currently recognized as the tribe's service delivery area. The designation falls in line with a land claim settlement enacted by Congress in 1987.

But a significant number of tribal members live on the mainland in Massachusetts. As a result, they are can't access purchased and referred care unless they move or travel to Martha's Vineyard.

Getting there isn't easy, though. A tribal member must travel over one and a half hours via ferry and car to reach the clinic in Aquinnah, according to a notice published in the Federal Register on Monday.

"As a consequence, most non-residents do not seek care on the island," the IHS said.

A map of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe's headquarters are located in Aquinnah, shown here in the lower left portion of the map. Image from AWT

An attempt to address the situation by expanding the area was denied in December 2011, according to the notice. But "at the insistence of the tribe," the IHS has changed its mind.

"While IHS does not intend to abandon its historic practice, IHS has reviewed the Aquinnah's request and believes that unique circumstances are present that warrant expanding the Aquinnah PRC service delivery area beyond the limits identified by Congress in Public Law 100-95," the notice states, referring to the land claim settlement.

The agency points out that the Bureau of Indian Affairs extended federal recognition to the tribe prior to the passage of the settlement act. So the government has known that members who live on the mainland "continue to maintain close economic and social ties" with the tribe in Aquinnah, the notice states.

On prior occasions, the IHS itself has provided sanitation services to tribal homes on the mainland, the notice states. All of these factors led the agency to propose expanding the service delivery area to about 268 tribal members in the counties of Barnstable, Bristol, Norfolk, Plymouth and Suffolk.

According to the notice, expanding the service delivery area will not require additional appropriations. "The tribe will use its existing federal allocation for PRC funds to provide services to the expanded population," the IHS said.

Public comments on the proposal will be accepted until September 23.

Federal Register Notice:
Notice To Propose the Redesignation of the Service Delivery Area for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) (August 24, 2015)