Congressional Panel Poised to Move Mashpee Reservation Reaffirmation Act Forward

Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman Cedric Cromwell testfying on Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Published July 26, 2018

WASHINGTON – A Congressional subcommittee heard testimony this afternoon from Congressman William Keating and Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell, urging the panel to move forward with legislation that would protect the historic tribe’s reservation.

“This bill is critical for the rights and benefits of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. It’s a Tribe known as The People of the First Light, who were an integral part of our country’s history, assisting the Pilgrims settling in Plymouth,” U.S. Rep William Keating, D-Massachusetts, told the U.S. House Natural Resources subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs.

“The status of their land has been called into question, unfortunately, and we have serious concerns about the land being taken out of trust,” said Keating, who originally filed the legislation (H.R. 5244) in March of 2018. “This would result in the Tribe no longer being eligible for many federal grants and assistance programs. It would also call into question inter-governmental agreements.”

Passage of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act, Keating testified, would ensure the Mashpee Tribe’s federally-designated reservation land “remains firmly in place.”

Chairman Cromwell echoed Congressman Keating’s concern that the Mashpee Wampanoag could be the first tribe in the modern era to lose its reservation if Congress didn’t act swiftly. A technical legal challenge to the Interior Department’s legal reasoning in establishing the reservation and a subsequent federal district court opinion remanded the initial 2015 reservation declaration back to the Interior Department for further review.

Cromwell went on to note that litigation challenging the Tribe’s reservation status – funded by an out-of-state casino developer – along with the federal government opting not to defend the initial decision necessitated legislation to put an end to the litigation and ensure the Interior Department did not move to take the Tribe’s land out of trust.

Furthermore, he noted, his tribe is the only federally-recognized tribe in New England without a federal land settlement act, making the Mashpee Tribe particularly vulnerable to political and legal uncertainties.

“It is possible that we will not only lose our current reservation but also that we will never have any reservation,” Cromwell said. “HR 5244 is a simple bipartisan bill that confirms the status of the Mashpee reservation and confirms that the Tribe is eligible for the Indian Reorganization Act. A reservation is essential to a Tribe’s ability to engage in economic development and generate revenue to support vital government functions.”

“In our case, economic development will also bring great economic prosperity, thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars-worth of infrastructure improvements to Southeastern, Massachusetts as a whole and nearby Rhode Island,” Cromwell testified.

Cromwell also testified to the broad local and state support the Tribe has received in addition to the support of dozens of tribal nations across Indian Country.

In his brief testimony on the bill, Acting Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Darryl LaCounte spoke of the Interior Department’s responsibility to work in the best interest of tribal nations.

When asked about the status of the Tribe’s land-in-trust review, LaCounte said he would get back to the committee. LaCounte was also asked whether the Interior Department was considering revoking the Tribe’s reservation status, to which he responded: “I have heard of no plans to do this.”

Each of the various Congressional subcommittee members, including subcommittee Chairman Doug LaMalfa, R-California, spoke favorably of the bill.

“I look forward to moving the bill as expeditiously as possible,” added U.S. Rep Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona.

U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act is “a good piece of legislation.”

U.S. Rep Darren Soto, D-Florida, apologized to Chairman Cromwell. “Sorry you have to go through this contorted process for land that’s been in your heritage for 12,000 years,” he said.

CLICK TO READ Chairman Cromwell’s Testimony

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