Published June 25, 2019
MASHPEE, Mass. — On Friday, June 21, 2019, Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued an order handing the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe a key victory in its litigation against the U.S. Department of Interior. The order issued by Judge Collyer denied a petition by the plaintiffs in the separate Littlefield litigation to have the court case against the Interior transferred back to the First Circuit Court in Boston. This early victory gives the Tribe the benefit of a legal forum that has consistently protected tribal sovereignty rights to advance its argument that the Interior was unlawfully arbitrary and capricious when it disregarded the long standing statutory interpretation that it used to take over 300 acres of land into trust for the Tribe in 2015 only to suddenly withdraw its support of the Tribe in 2018 “without sufficient explanation.” This victory comes on the heels of the Tribe’s victory on Capitol Hill last month when the U.S. House of Representatives voted in a bi-partisan fashion with a near supermajority to pass legislation confirming the reservation status of the Tribe’s lands.
Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell testfying on Tuesday, July 24, 2018
As Chairman Cedric Cromwell of the Tribe points out, “The significance of this victory and its importance to our Tribe cannot be understated. Judge Collyer agreed with every single argument that we advanced and showed, as a Reagan-appointed judge that our issue is a bi-partisan plight with ‘national policy implications’ for the rights of tribes across the U.S. She was also right to point out that the Tribe has received support from pan-tribal organizations representing more than 250 tribes across the U.S. who all agree that the Interior was unlawfully arbitrary and capricious. We still need urgent support from the U.S. Senate to finish the work of the House to preserve our limited resources for the housing and caring of our members versus fighting frivolous litigation, but we are encouraged by this momentum.”
While the Tribe has made real progress in Congress and the Courts, a few of the Tribal members have seized on the delays and suffering caused by the litigation to pursue their own goals. In particular, a previously ousted member of the Tribal Council has petitioned for the recall of the Tribe’s Chairman and Treasurer and launched a smear campaign with false claims of missing funds, which have been echoed across the region with anonymous and unlawful “robo calls.” The calls wildly state that the Tribe’s Gaming Authority is unable to account for over $250 million, which is money that very publicly, and with the recorded public votes of Tribal Council each step along the way, went towards acquiring the 300 acres of trust lands for the Tribe, establishing a Compact with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, multiple cooperation agreements with local governments, and fighting legal and legislative battles from Massachusetts to Washington D.C. The calls did not identify who orchestrated or paid for the calls in an apparent attempt to flout public disclosure requirements for political campaigns, and the calls plainly violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) laws against sending robo messages to restricted call lists. The attacks go so far as claiming that absences of the Tribe’s Treasurer, which were due to a personal medical illness, and separately, a personal property disaster, are evidence of his nonfeasance.
According to the Tribe’s Treasurer Gordon Harris, these accusations are not only false, but also they are obviously intended to deceive and incite community members. “Tribal Council has laid out every single expense of the Tribe in accordance with annual and quarterly financial statements that adhere to generally accepted accounting principles and financial reporting standards. These financial statements have been prepared and made available for review by each Tribal Council member every month with periodic reports made to the general membership of the Tribe on a consistent basis for the last ten years. At no point have any Federal or private funds gone unaccounted for,” said the Tribe’s Treasurer.
“It is no coincidence that our tribal community is getting carpet bombed with these computer-programmed robo calls spewing false statements that non-tribal members are eager to print in the media with no verification at all” said Vice Chair Jessie Baird of the Tribe. “As we fight for our land and our sovereignty, our elders and the vast majority of our community members want to focus on the real progress happening in Congress and the Courts. The vile bullying and intimidation tactics being played out in the public eye are heartbreaking because they bear no resemblance to the shared vision of justice that many of us have fought for our entire lives,” said Vice Chair Baird.
“Our people have had enough of this divisiveness”, said Chairman Cromwell. “Open debate within our tribal community is normal and healthy, but let’s keep it clean and on the facts. There are many people eager to revel and write about us fighting amongst ourselves, but that does not reflect what is actually happening on the ground. As we fight to keep control of our tribal lands and our sovereignty we must stand together and not let lies and fear distract us from the real progress that our mission for justice is making.”