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Article Title

Identities

Authors

Martha Minow

Abstract

"We were different/We knew we were different/We were told we were different," stated Chief Flying Eagle of the Mashpee Wampanoag Indians in the course of a trial over their tribal status. The plaintiffs, the Mashpee Indians, asked for a determination that the residents of "Cape Cod's Indian Town" were direct descendants of Native Americans known as the Mashpee, had lived continuously as a tribe, and thus were entitled to regain control of the land in their town despite repeated sales to non-Indians. The defendant, the State of Massachusetts, argued that these people simply were a group with some Indian and some non-Indian ancestors; they had essentially assimilated into mainstream American life through intermarriage and acculturation and thus had no special claim to the land.

The tribe's Medicine Man at the time of the trial was named William James. This small detail exemplified the difficulty of the case. Given the same name as one of the most distinguished American philosophers, how could this Medicine Man demonstrate the distinctive identity of his tribe? What would the other William James, the philosopher, say to this question?

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