Secretary Of Interior Strips Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of its Land

“It begs the question, what is driving our federal trustee’s crusade against our reservation?” asks Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell. (Photo by Native Business Magazine)

The U.S. Department of the Interior has “disestablished” the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s reservation status and plans to take its land out of trust. 

The harrowing blow comes as the entire nation is grappling with a national health and economic crisis. Both Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell and Rep. Bill Keating, D-Mass., labeled the Interior’s action as “cruel” and unjust.  

“On the very day that the United States has reached a record 100,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and our Tribe is desperately struggling with responding to this devastating pandemic, the Bureau of Indian Affairs informed me that the Secretary of the Interior has ordered that our reservation be disestablished and that our land be taken out of trust,” Cromwell said on March 27. “Not since the termination era of the mid-twentieth century has a Secretary taken action to disestablish a reservation.” 

Cromwell added, “The Secretary is under no court order to take our land out of trust. He is fully aware that litigation to uphold our status as a Tribe eligible for the benefits of the Indian Reorganization Act is ongoing.” 

Cromwell asks: “It begs the question, what is driving our federal trustee’s crusade against our reservation?”

In 2007, the 2,600-member Tribe was re-acknowledged and federally recognized, and in 2015, the Obama Administration granted the Tribe 321 acres of land in trust. The Tribe broke ground on its First Light Casino in Taunton the following year. 

READ MORE: The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Fight for Trust Status Is About More than Land 

But in February 2020, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that said the Interior should not have held land in trust for the Tribe. The fact that the Mashpee Wampanoag’s plan to build a casino on its trust lands in Massachusetts was attacked by President Donald Trump last year has not gone unnoticed. 

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Cape Cod-based resort would pull from the same market as neighboring Rhode Island casinos “with strong ties to Trump,” the Huffington Post noted. Trump’s involvement in the casino industry harkens back to the 1980s when he purchased properties, now bankrupt, on the Atlantic City boardwalk. 

Regardless of the federal government’s motivations for stripping the Tribe of its land base, the fight is not over. “…[W]e the People of the First Light have lived here since before there was a Secretary of the Interior, since before there was a State of Massachusetts, since before the Pilgrims arrived 400 years ago,” Cromwell stated. 

“We have survived, we will continue to survive. These are our lands, these are the lands of our ancestors, and these will be the lands of our grandchildren. This Administration has come and it will go. But we will be here, always. And we will not rest until we are treated equally with other federally recognized Tribes and the status of our reservation is confirmed.” 

Rep. Bill Keating, D-Mass., called the decision “one of the most cruel and nonsensical acts I have seen since coming to Congress,” adding, “The Secretary should be ashamed.”

The irony of the situation is not lost on the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, whose ancestors greeted the Pilgrims and aided their survival. (Photo Courtesy Mashpee Wampanoag Facebook)