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House Passes Bill to Reaffirm Lands for Cape Cod-based Tribe

Steelman Partners’ architectural rendering of First Light Resort & Casino, which the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe envisions building on their Tribal trust lands in Taunton, Massachusetts.

President Trump’s tweet may have delayed a House vote, but it didn’t influence the outcome. Once the bipartisan bill to restore the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s trust lands was back on the table Wednesday, House lawmakers voted 275-to-146 to pass H.R. 312, with 47 Republicans crossing party lines to join all but two Democrats in favor of the bill. The House measure, which would restore the Cape Cod-based Tribe’s sovereignty over 321 acres of land, including the Taunton, Massachusetts site eyed for its First Light Casino, now heads to the Senate for consideration.

The bill was scheduled for an expedited House vote the week prior, requiring a two-thirds majority to pass. But Trump’s tweet caught both parties off guard, and the measure was taken off the table.

“Republicans shouldn’t vote for H.R. 312, a special interest casino Bill, backed by Elizabeth (Pocahontas) Warren,” Trump said. “It is unfair and doesn’t treat Native Americans equally!”

Yesterday during the House floor debate, the bill’s sponsor Rep. William R. Keating (D-Massachusetts), criticized Trump for “trying to sink an entire Native American tribe in the name of special interests, dirty lobbying and outright bigotry.”

“The cast of characters behind the scenes spewing misinformation is revealing,” Keating said, reported the Washington Post. “Cultural warfare to benefit bank accounts. Corrupt intent for personal gain, all in the form of a racist tweet. And some members of this body are eager to let him get away with it — but not me, not my co-sponsors and not the majority of this House.”

Known as the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act, the measure, once approved, could not be challenged in court. The irreversible decision would be a monumental victory for a Tribe that has endured incredible upheaval since its 2007 federal recognition and the DOI’s 2015 decision to take Tribal land into trust. In 2016, Taunton residents filed suit to invalidate the Tribe’s trust status. On September 7, 2018, the DOI ruled it would not hold land in trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag, a decision that not only caused the Tribe to lose its bid to build a $1 billion casino in Taunton, sending the Tribe into deeper debt with its financial partner, the Malaysian gaming giant Genting, the Tribe lost major economic development programs that benefit Tribal members and the entire region.

As Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell previously said, “A Tribal land base … represents the foundation for Tribal economic development.”

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