Nine Tribes & Tribal Organizations Urge Congress to Support Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act

Drawing of proposed casino the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe will build.

Published May 30, 2018

MASHPEE, Mass. – Representatives from nine American Indian tribes and tribal organizations have sent letters to the U.S. Committee on Indian Affairs and the House Natural Resources Committee and its Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, urging Congress to work diligently and do everything legally possible to ensure the swift enactment of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act (H.R. 5244 and S. 2628). This legislation would explicitly reaffirm the taking of land into trust by the United States for the benefit of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts as described in the final Notice of Reservation Proclamation published at 81 Federal Register 948 on January 8, 2016.

The Mashpee Wampanoag is a federally recognized tribe with a history, culture, and government that predates the founding of the United States. It eventually lost all of its historical lands as a result of the federal government’s failure to protect those lands from encroachments. In 2015, the Department of the Interior finally rectified this historical injustice when it took into trust lands within the tribe’s historical territory, forming a reservation.

The reservation is now being threatened by litigation brought by a group of individual citizens opposed to Tribal sovereignty, jeopardizing the ability of the Mashpee Wampanoag to rebuild its economy and provide essential government services to its citizens. Because of this legal challenge, the Tribe’s reservation could be disestablished by later this year – something the federal government has not allowed to happen since the Termination Era.

“As a federally-recognized Tribal Nation, it is critical for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe to restore its
homelands. We urge Congress to use its authority to ensure that the Mashpee Tribe is not forever rendered perpetually landless by enacting the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act,” write Kirk Francis, president and Kitcki A. Carroll, executive director of the United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund.

DOI has failed to take any action to protect the tribe from becoming landless again, and are now considering adding language to the regulations governing the DOI’s authority to acquire lands in trust for Tribes. One of the proposed changes explicitly refers to taking land out of trust when so ordered by a court. Since the federal government has withdrawn from the litigation defending the decision to take the land into trust, it seems poised to use this proposed new provision to take the Mashpee Wampanoag’s land out of trust and disestablish its reservation.

Congress’ plenary authority over Indian issues is the only thing standing between the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s reservation and the Tribe’s return to landlessness. With the Department of Interior abdicating its trust responsibility to the Mashpee Wampanoag, Congress must now step in to reaffirm the Tribe’s reservation as trust land, and the actions of the Secretary of the Interior in taking that land into trust.

H.R. 5244 was introduced in the House by Rep. William Keating, where it has garnered a bipartisan coalition of 17 cosponsors, including Rep. Doug LaMalfa, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. Its companion bill in the Senate, S. 2628, has been introduced by Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren.

Letters of support for H.R. 5244 and S. 2628 have been submitted by the Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria, the Apache Alliance, the Fort Sill Apache, the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the Tohono O’odham, the Native American Rights Fund, the National Indian Gaming Association, and the United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund (USET SPF).

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