Federal Court to Hear Mashpee Wampanoag Appeal

Masphee Wampanoag Chairman Cedric Cromwell in front of the U.S. Capitol on November 14, 2018, during the Mashpee Wampanoag Land Sovereignty March and Rally (Copyright © 2018 NativeBusinessMag.com. All rights reserved.)

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe will finally see its day in court on February 5th. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the Tribe’s appeal of a September 2018 federal court decision that the Interior Department was not authorized to take the Tribe’s land into trust.

“Through this appeal, the Tribe hopes to uphold the original Record of Decision accepting the Tribe’s land into trust,” Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell said. “This appeal concerns the question of whether the Department of Interior was authorized to take the Tribe’s land into trust.”

The Mashpee Wampanoag, who finally received federal recognition in 2007, experienced a short-lived victory in 2015 when the Department of the Interior took into trust 170 acres of land in Mashpee and an additional 150 acres in nearby Taunton, Massachusetts (the 320 acres briefly restored represents a small fraction of what was the Tribe’s original lands, which stretched from Cape Ann into Rhode Island).

Cromwell previously put the Tribe’s significance to this country’s history into perspective. “It was our ancestors who greeted the Pilgrims and helped them survive. It was our forebears who signed the first treaty with the settlers, sharing our land and natural resources which made the establishment of Plymouth Colony possible. Re-affirming our right to a reservation for our people, as this legislation does,” he said of the former Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act, “is just and honorable and ensures that our Tribe will be treated equally under the law as other federally recognized Tribes.”

The February 5th hearing will take place at 1 Courthouse Way in Boston. Each side in the David Littlefield, et al. v. Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribe will be given 15 minutes to present oral arguments. The court is anticipated to issue a decision within the next several months. 

Meanwhile U.S. Rep. William Keating, who represents Taunton and Mashpee, is advocating for legislation in Congress that would reaffirm the initial 2015 DOI decision. In May, the House of Representatives voted to approve that bill, it hasn’t made headway since being referred to the Senate. 

A Tribal land base is the foundation for Tribal economic development, Cromwell has declared time and time again. Part of its 320 acres put into trust in 2015 was designated to build First Light Resort & Casino in Taunton, a suburb of Boston. When the Trump Administration reversed its decision, construction on the entertainment facility had already begun. Plans for First Light Resort entailed 300 hotel rooms, 3,000 slot machines, 150 table games and 40 poker tables. 

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