Urie Ridgeway is helping his nephew, Jesse Gould, get ready before the opening ceremony starts at the Wampanoag Powwow Grounds in Mashpee on Friday. Jesse Gould had been dancing for the past 15 years while his uncle, Urie Ridgeway had been dancing for 40 years. Sophie Proe/Cape Cod Times Sophie Proe

MA - Wampanoag and non-Native Aquinnah land owners battle for access

MARTHA'S VINEYARD —Surrounded by scrubby beach grass, and steep, earthy, sand dunes Moshup Trail winds visitors and Martha's Vineyard islanders through the town of Aquinnah and down to Gay Head Beach.

The area, for thousands of years, has been inhabited by members of the Gay Head (Aquinnah) Wampanoag Tribe. While Moshup Trail is a source of stunning beauty for many, its history is clouded with colonial devastation — much of which surrounds the fight over tribal lands.

While the Gay Head (Aquinnah) Wampanoag Tribe was federally recognized in 1987, and was successful in land-back initiatives, in Aquinnah, litigation continues as Wampanoag and non-Native private land owners fight — with the Vineyard Conservation Society, the town of Aquinnah, and the Gay Head (Aquinnah) Wampanoag Tribe — for access to parcels of land along Moshup Trail.

Wilson "Bud" Harding, and his family, have paid roughly $150,000 in taxes for three parcels of ancestral land on Aquinnah, he said,  but he is still denied access to his land.

"This has been a 30-year battle. It's very discouraging," said Harding, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. "We are entitled to this land and paying taxes on it. But don’t have the privilege to be on our land or do anything with it."

Lots 126, 128 and 86 are landlocked parcels of land along Moshup Trail. The land was passed down through Harding's family and gifted to Wilson Harding's mother Eleanor Harding by her first cousin Sarah Attaquin. The land now belongs to Wilson Harding and his son Mark Harding.

Because much of the privately-owned land along Moshup Trail is landlocked, surrounded by Vineyard Conservation-owned land, the Hardings, along with other Native American and non-Native private land owners, are seeking passage of Bill S. 2011, An Act Relative to Certain Easements.

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