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Mashpee Tribe Files Court Complaint on Interior Department Decision

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Community/ Government Center in Mashpee, Massachusetts (mashpeewampanoagtribe-nsn.gov)

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe filed a complaint in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the U.S. Department of the Interior’s most recent failure to take action to preserve and protect the Tribe’s reservation as arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to the Department’s own administrative decisions and clear law. (Related: “DOI Reverses Decision on Mashpee Wampanoag Trust Land, Tribe Hopes for Congressional Intervention.”)

On September 7, the Department announced that the Tribe was not “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934 and therefore that such jurisdiction was not a basis for maintaining the Tribe’s reservation. That conclusion was result-driven and ignored the evidence provided by the Tribe as well as relevant law.

“We have been utterly abandoned by our federal trustee,” said Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell.

Despite the Department’s erroneous and legally unsupportable decision, the Tribe’s reservation land remains protected for the time being, as the Department took it into trust in 2015 on separate grounds than those it considered in the September 7 decision. However, the basis of the Department’s 2015 decision to take the Tribe’s land into trust is also under attack. It is the subject of separate litigation filed in Massachusetts by certain local landowners who object to living near an Indian reservation and have challenged the 2015 decision. In that case, the Department has withdrawn its appeal defending the original 2015 decision.

“I do not believe that our country, this great nation that our Tribal citizens have fought and died for, wants to return to the dark days of taking sovereign Indian land away from indigenous communities,” Chairman Cromwell added. If neither Congress nor the federal courts weigh in to stop this, this Administration will return the Mashpee Wampanoag once again to landlessness, force us to close our schools and social service programs, and lead us back to despair and hopelessness.”

“We are urgently petitioning the United States Congress and the federal courts to end this nightmare —to prevent what appears to be an intentional return to the dark days of the termination era, when tribal lands were taken out of trust and the federal relationship with tribal governments disavowed,” Cromwell said.

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