In happier times, the Mashpee Wampanoags broke ground on the First Light Resort & Casino in June 2017.
Published September 8, 2018
MASHPEE, Mass. — In a major blow to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the Trump administration’s Department of the Interior – Indian Affairs on Friday issued a determination to the tribe saying it could not keep 321 acres of land taken into trust during the Obama administration. The determination now puts the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s planned $1 billion casino on hold indefinitely.
Mashpee Wampanoag tribal leaders vow to continue their fight to retain its reservation and push for passage of bipartisan legislation to protect its land after Friday’s determination.
“We have been on this land for 12,000 years and we are not going anywhere. This only underscores the urgency of passing the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act immediately. We implore Congress to act now,” said Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell.
Friday’s decision was issued after a court-ordered review to determine if the Interior Department has the authority to hold the historic tribe’s Land-in-Trust under a different legal category within the Indian Reorganization Act than the one previously issued.
In September 2015, after a decades-long examination of archeological, anthropological, and historical evidence, the Interior Department officially moved to hold 321 acres of land in Mashpee and Taunton in trust on behalf of the tribe under the IRA on the grounds that the Mashpee Tribe had maintained ties to an existing reservation since time immemorial. A lawsuit funded by an out-of-state casino developer was then filed challenging the Interior Department’s legal reasoning. A subsequent federal district court opinion remanded the initial 2015 reservation declaration back to the Interior Department for further review.
“Let’s call it what it is: a grave injustice initiated by an out-of-state casino developer to undermine the rights and sovereignty of native people. This is a tremendous blow to our Tribe without whom America’s earliest settlers would not have survived and it should also alarm Tribal Nations all across Indian Country,” Cromwell said.
“I am asking people of good will and all those concerned with justice for the indigenous people of this land – the first Americans – to stand with us in calling on Congress to protect our reservation and ensure we are don’t become the first Tribe since the dark days of the Termination Era to lose its land,” Cromwell said.
In March of this year, U.S. Rep William Keating filed the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act, which if passed, would protect the tribe’s reservation and put an end to the ongoing litigation.
At a Congressional subcommittee hearing on the bill held on July 24th the committee heard testimony from Congressman Keating, Chairman Cromwell and the Acting Bureau of Indian Affairs Director. During the hearing, the panel spoke favorably of the bill moving forward.
“I look forward to moving the bill as expeditiously as possible,” U.S. Rep Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona, said during the hearing.
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.
U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, called the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act “a good piece of legislation.”