Senate Urged to Reaffirm Mashpee Land in Trust

“It’s truly about the land that we stand on, the blood and the bones of our ancestors that come from this land,” Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell said at a Tribal rally in Washington D.C. in November 2018. (Photo by Native Business)

House members press for the passage of two land-in-trust legislation bills still before the Senate

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles Schumer are in receipt of a letter featuring the signatures of 18 members of the House of Representatives, requesting the Senate pass two bills that would reaffirm the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s land in trust.

  • H.R. 312, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act, would reaffirm the trust status of Tribal land taken into trust in 2015 by the Obama Administration.
  • H.R. 375 would overrule the Supreme Court’s decision in Carcieri v. Salazar that barred the Interior from taking land into trust for Tribes that were federally recognized after 1934, when the Indian Reorganization Act was enacted. 

The bills passed the House chamber months ago and await Senate approval. 

“[H.R. 312] would simply ensure the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is no longer vulnerable to having its land taken out of trust, and the Tribe is treated equally alongside other Native American Tribes so it can care for its members and protect its legacy,” the letter states. 

On March 27, the Secretary of the Interior notified the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe that it would revoke the Tribe’s reservation status, undermining the federal legitimacy of a Tribal people who welcomed the first settlers to Plymouth Rock in 1620. The action would remove 321 acres from federal trust protection in Mashpee and Taunton, Massachusetts. “There is a problematic and deeply sad history of the U.S. government taking systematic actions to harm indigenous peoples of North America. It’s shameful to see that continue in 2020,” Massachusetts State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, told the Cape Cod Times

READ MORE: Secretary Of Interior Strips Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of its Land 

The District Court for the District of Columbia has agreed to stay Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s order for 45 days. On March 30, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe asked the court to issue an emergency restraining order to prevent the Interior from taking its land out of trust. 

“The clock is now ticking,” the House letter to the Senate states. “In the middle of a worldwide pandemic, with the United States struggling to contain the spread of COVID-19, it is highly objectionable that DOI would take such action in the first place.”

Legislators and Tribal advocates have called the Interior’s March 27th action “cruel” and unjust to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and all of Indian Country, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Interior Secretary’s move violates the federal government’s solemn trust responsibility to safeguard Tribal Nations and their lands.

“Our land is sacred. It’s where our people receive health services. It’s where our children attend our language immersion school. It’s where we are building houses for our citizens. Taking our land is a direct attack on our culture and our way of living,” said Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell. “We now have no choice but to divert precious resources from COVID-19 to address this unwarranted attack on our sovereignty. This is an unconscionable act that’s ushered in a new termination era, and it is the latest evidence of the erosion of the Department’s willingness to act consistent with its trust duties to protect Tribal lands.” 

Another letter boasting the signatures of 50 state legislators — recruited by Sen. Cyr and state Rep. David Vieira, R-Falmouth, and sent to Washington today — urges the Interior’s recent action to disestablish the Tribe’s reservation land be rescinded. 

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