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The Lost Tribe Of Camberwell: A Camberwell Tale By: Rick Heller
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, July 09, 2003


Here in Camberwell, we like to think of our town as New England's most progressive community.  In other parts of the country, Native Americans descended from this continent's original inhabitants, have to fight to get their land back.  But in Camberwell, we've got land to give, and if we have to, we'll even create a tribe.

Chip Worthington, Esq. decided he'd been defending indigent criminals for too long.  They were nearly all guilty, and he'd never be able buy a beach house from the money he made representing them.

Chip scanned the headlines in the Camberwell Chronicle while sipping from a container of Paw's Coffee.  He almost dropped the cup in his lap when he read the latest figures from that casino on the Indian reservation in Connecticut.  The amount wagered exceeded one billion dollars.

One billion!  How much did a casino like that generate in legal fees?  He could only imagine.

Chip locked up his office and went over to the law library at Camberwell University.  He poked around until he found a report from the 2000 census which showed that four-tenths of one percent of Camberwell residents were Native Americans.  Could there be a Camberwell tribe?

He didn't know where else to look, so he approached the reference desk. 

"Excuse me," Chip said.  "Can you tell me if there's ever been a tribe of Native Americans who lived in Camberwell?"

The reference librarian, a man with graying hair and a full beard, looked up.  "Aren't you familiar with the Wampenockets?"

"I'm afraid not. 

"They had a village near the present-day Camberwell Common when the city was founded in 1643."

"Any of them left?" 

"The last Wampenocket died in 1837.  We do have a volume about them in our rare book room."

There was an Indian claim to the land, Chip realized, but no Indians to claim it.
"If there are no Wampenockets," Chip asked, "who are all the Native Americans who live in Camberwell according to the latest census?"
"If I'm not mistaken, they would be mostly students at the University."
"Ah, diversity admissions,"  Chip said. "Perfect!"

Chip ambled over to the student union and found what he was looking for --the Camberwell University Native American Society.  There were a couple of students hanging out at the CUNAS office, and one of them turned out to be the group's president, Lori Bird. 

Chip sat down and explained he was a lawyer with years of experience fighting for society's outcasts.  He outlined a plan to reconstitute the Wampenocket tribe from Native American students on campus.  Lori was skeptical, but when Chip sketched out the cash flow that might be generated by a Camberwell casino, she wanted to know more.  

One week later, Chip filed a lawsuit in Camberwell District Court on behalf of CUNAS.  It charged that the deal by which Camberwell's Puritan founders acquired city land from the Wampenockets in exchange for two muskets and a bunch of sea shells was no less than a land swindle.  The suit placed liens on properties abutting Camberwell Common, making them impossible to sell.

At first, most citizens of Camberwell sympathized with the city's tribal people.  But then the news broke that Redtext, the city's pre-eminent radical bookstore, would be unable to expand because of the lien placed on the property and might even be forced out of business.  

The Camberwell City Council convened a special hearing to address to citizen concerns.   As the spokesperson for CUNAS, Chip declared, "Camberwell was founded upon a lie, on a contract drawn up with natives who lacked adequate legal representation.  Such a contract is null and void."  Chip motioned toward Lori Bird and other members of CUNAS sitting in the gallery. "Camberwell University's Native American students, as the Wampenockets closest living relatives, have the right to return to their land." 

A bald man with a wisp of a gray ponytail stepped up to the microphone.  "The Redtext is one of the businesses that might be seriously harmed by the turning over of downtown Camberwell to the heirs to the Wampenocket legacy.  But the sympathies of the Redtext Collective are with Native Americans, and so the collective has voted to liquidate if necessary in order to accommodate the Wampenocket Nation."

Some members of the audience signaled their approval through applause, while others murmured in sadness about the loss of a community treasure.  

"However, we have been alarmed by a rumor," the Redtext representative continued, "that the Wampenockets plan to build a casino on Camberwell Common.  Gambling is a form of entertainment that distracts the masses from their true purpose of confronting injustice.  We would like the compact with the Wampenockets to stipulate that Camberwell is a casino-free zone."

Chip challenged the amendment, but was unable to dissuade the City Council from adopting it.  The compact sent to the Governor of Massachusetts would turn Camberwell Common over to the Wampenockets, but without a casino, why bother? 

At least Chip made the front page of the Chronicle.  When a Back Bay periodontist was accused of murdering his dental hygienist, he asked Chip to defend him.  Chip quietly let the matter of the Wampenocket settlement drop.  CUNAS president Lori Bird graduated in June and moved to Ann Arbor.  The Wampenocket compact remains on the Governor's desk where it still awaits his signature.


Rick Heller is a comedy writer who lives in New England near the fictional town of Camberwell. He also produces the Smart Genes weblog.


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