A bill making its way through the state legislature would create a voting seat on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), eliminating a 48-year-old provision that allows for a voting member appointed by the governor of Massachusetts.

The bill was introduced by joint petition in June 2021 by Cape and Islands Rep. Dylan Fernandes and state Sen. Julian Cyr, but virtually unknown until last week when Mr. Fernandes issued a press release announced that the measure had passed the House and was headed to the state senate for a vote.

A hearing was held Monday morning in the senate on the bill.

Mr. Fernandes said in the press release that the change would expand equity on the 21-member commission.

“The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is one of two federally recognized tribes in Massachusetts and it’s their land that we call home,” Mr. Fernandes said in the release. “Expanding equity means not leaving out diverse groups — especially those that have been historically marginalized.”

Speaking to the Gazette by phone Monday, Mr. Fernandes said the bill was introduced after he and state Sen. Julian Cyr met with tribal members last year.

“We met with the tribe they raised the question of it, and it seemed like an oversight in the original [legislation] — five seats for the governor to appoint but not any voice for a sovereign nation on the Island,” Mr. Fernandes said. “It seemed like an opportunity to fix this,” he added.

He said the bill was sent to MVC executive director Adam Turner for review last year, seeking feedback. “We asked for his thoughts . . . Adam okayed it, so we filed it,” Mr. Fernandes said.

The commission was created by an act of the state legislature — Chapter 637 in 1974, followed by Chapter 831 as amended in 1977 — also known as an Act Further Regulating the Protection of the Land and Waters on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard.

The preamble to the act includes the often-quoted language:

“The Island of Martha’s Vineyard possesses unique natural, historical, ecological, scientific, cultural and other values, and there is a regional and statewide interest in preserving and enhancing these values.

“These values are being threatened and may be irreversibly damaged by uncoordinated or inappropriate uses of the land.”

Among other things, the lengthy legislation spells out voting membership for the commission, including nine members elected at large from the six Island towns, one member appointed by the selectmen from each town, one member appointed by the county commission, and one member of the governor’s cabinet, or his designee. The act also provides for four non-voting members who are not residents of the Island to be appointed by the governor, “said persons to have voice but not vote in deciding matters before the commission.”

The governor’s appointed members, especially the voting member, have been active participants on and off over the years; many have owned homes on the Island or been state cabinet members of environmental agencies with an interest in protecting natural resources.

The current governor’s appointed member is Michael Kim, an architect and Oak Bluffs homeowner who has been an active participant on the commission.

The legislation spells out no specific time frame for the change, but Mr. Fernandes said it would take effect once it clears the senate and is signed by the governor.

Mr. Fernandes downplayed the significance of the governor’s appointed member.

“There’s no real reason for the governor to have an appointee on the commission,” he said. “This happens a lot where they just throw in a bunch of governor appointees, but there’s no real value in it . . . the governor isn’t in tune with the nuances of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission . . . the governor has much bigger and better things to do.”

He concluded:

“This is correcting what is an historic omission . . . it is part of the historical and systemic racism that we have left a lot of marginalized groups with no seat at the table on these government entities.”