DOI Reverses Decision on Mashpee Wampanoag Trust Land, Tribe Hopes for Congressional Intervention

Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) have sponsored a bipartisan bill for Congressional intervention to reaffirm the Mashpee Wampanoag’s tribal land. (Photo by Victoria Pickering, Flickr/Creative Commons)

On September 7, the U.S. Department of the Interior issued its long-awaited decision on the Mashpee Wampanaoag’s tribal trust land. In a crushing defeat, the DOI ruled it would not hold land in trust for the Cape Cod-based tribe.

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell called last week’s DOI decision, which reverses the decision made by the Obama Administration in 2015, a “grave injustice.”

“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 wrote. “We implore Congress to act now.”

Not only would the DOI’s recent decision cause the tribe to lose its bid to build a $1 billion casino in Taunton, Massachusetts, and send the tribe into deeper debt with its financial partner, the Malaysian gaming giant Genting. The tribe would also be forced to shutter its school, abandon a housing project, and forfeit federal environmental and social services funding. Losing their trust status means losing major economic development programs that benefit Tribal members and the entire region.

The tribe’s hope now lies in congressional intervention. A bipartisan bill, sponsored by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Ed Markey (D-Mass), among others, is underway.

“The decision by the Trump administration to move forward with denying the Mashpee Wampanoag a right to their ancestral homeland and to keep their reservation is an injustice,” said Warren and Markey, in a joint statement released Friday. “America has a painful history of systematically ripping apart tribal lands and breaking its word. We cannot repeat that history. Today’s action by the Trump administration is yet another deal the federal government is reneging on with Native Americans, and it underscores why Congress must pass our legislation, so that the Mashpee Wampanoag do not lose their home at the hands of the federal government.”

Read Native Business Magazine‘s overview of how events transpired from the tribe’s 2007 federal recognition to the DOI’s 2015 decision to take tribal land into trust to the 2016 suit filed by Taunton residents to invalidate the tribe’s trust status, here: “Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Asks Congress to Reaffirm Reservation.”