- By Levi Rickert
TAUNTON, Mass. — In the midst of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on his tribe, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Cedric Cromwell says he was informed late Friday afternoon by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), on orders of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior David Bernhardt, that the tribe’s “reservation be disestablished.”
“At 4:00 pm today -- on the very day that the United States has reached a record 100,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and our Tribe is desperately struggling with responding to this devastating pandemic -- the Bureau of Indian Affairs informed me that the Secretary of the Interior has ordered that our reservation be disestablished and that our land be taken out of trust. Not since the termination era of the mid-twentieth century has a Secretary taken action to disestablish a reservation,” Cromwell writes in a statement that was posted online Friday evening.
The order would take the 321 acres of land that was put into trust during the Obama administration in September 2015 out of trust land status. The Obama decision was reversed by the Trump administration three years later in September 2018.
Since the September 2018 Interior ruling, the tribe has been involved in two separate lawsuits to resolve the issue. Late last month, the First Circuit Court in Boston ruled against the tribe in its battle to get land the tribe owns back in trust. Another case in Washington, D.C. federal court is still pending.
Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell testfying on Tuesday, July 24, 2018
“The Secretary is under no court order to take our land out of trust. He is fully aware that litigation to uphold our status as a tribe eligible for the benefits of the Indian Reorganization Act is ongoing,” Cromwell said in his statement.
Cromwell further asked in his statement, “it begs the question, what is driving our federal trustee's crusade against our reservation?”
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe remains a federally recognized Tribe.
In response to an inquiry to the Department of the Interior from Native News Online via an email on Saturday, Connor Swanson, a Interior Department spokesperson, sent this response:
"In Fall 2015, Interior issued a decision approving a trust acquisition for the Tribe. Subsequently, both a federal district court and a federal circuit court panel comprised of former Supreme Court Justice David Souter, former Chief Judge Sandra Lynch, and Senior Judge Kermit Lipez, found there to be no statutory authority for this decision. The Tribe did not petition for a panel rehearing or a rehearing en banc.
On March 19th, the court of appeals issued its mandate, which requires Interior to rescind its earlier decision."
Independent presidential candidate Mark Charles (Navajo) said about he order on Saturday evening:
"When one President (Obama) grants a Native nation rights to lands and the next President (Trump) "disestablishes" those same rights, that is the Doctrine of Discovery at play. And the USA lacks the authority to do either. You CANNOT discover lands already inhabited."
This is a developing story. Native News Online will provide more information when it becomes available.