Tribe's Push for Status Worries Residents

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

An American Indian tribe that many believe shared the first Thanksgiving meal with the Pilgrims (search) is on the verge of receiving recognition from the federal government, but some of the tribe's neighbors are a little nervous.

The Wampanoag (search) tribe, according to legend, helped the struggling Pilgrims survive in 1620. In return, the tribe was given a large tract of their ancestral lands, called Mashpee.

Today, Mashpee (search) is one of the fastest-growing communities in New England.

"The one great thing about my people is we opened our arms and our homes to everyone," said Glenn Marshall, a Mashpee Wampanoag leader.

The tribe has been working to obtain federal recognition for more than 30 years. In the mid-1970s, it filed suit in which it claimed that its land had been stolen and developed without the tribe's consent.

According to former Mashpee selectman Jim Vaccaro, area residents at the time were caught in the middle during the lawsuit.

"People wanting to buy and sell their homes couldn't do it because they couldn't get financing," said Vaccaro. "It was a very difficult time for the whole community."

The suit was eventually dismissed because the tribe lacked federal recognition. But some Mashpee residents still have questions about the tribe's intent in getting federal recognition.

"That is one of the concerns — what does it mean for me? Does it mean I'm gonna lose my property?" said Mashpee Town Manager Joyce Mason.

Tribal leaders say that the move towards federal recognition is about recognition of their ancestry. But others say that the real push for federal recognition is about one thing — a casino, a notion that tribal leaders do not deny.

"If [a casino is] available to the tribe, yes, we are wholly going to look at it," said Marshall. "We'd be foolish not to."

A final decision on federal recognition is expected next spring.

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Julie Banderas.