Massachusetts tribe files first land-into-trust bids
A Massachusetts tribe whose leader was ousted this week amid scandal is moving forward with plans for a $1 billion casino.

The newly recognized Mashpee Wampanaog Tribe filed its first land-into-trust applications yesterday. Chairman Shawn Hendricks, who was sworn in on Monday, delivered the papers personally to the Bureau of Indian Affairs' regional office in Nashville, Tennessee.

"We submitted our application for land-into-trust for Mashpee and Middleboro," Hendricks said in a conference call with reporters, naming the two towns where the tribe seeks to acquire land.

The properties in Mashpee, the tribe's headquarters, will be used for government services, housing, a cemetery and other purposes. The land in Middleboro is slated for what would be the first Indian gaming venture in the state.

Michael Roy, an attorney from Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker, a firm that specializes in Indian law, put together the applications. He also went to Nashville, where Hendricks and other tribal leaders met with BIA officials to discuss the land-into-trust process.

Hendricks and Roy said they were told the regional office's review, which includes a full environmental impact statement, would take a year and a half. "The officials here reiterated 18 months," Roy said on the conference call.

It's likely, however, that it will take much longer. Since the Middleboro application involves gaming, a final decision has to be made by officials in Washington, a step that lengthens the process.

And with President Bush heading out of office in less than 18 months, it will be up to a new administration -- with unknown views about gaming and land-into-trust -- to make the call. But when asked about a time frame for construction, Hendricks sounded optimistic.

The tribe will start building in "18 months and a day," he said.

Roy said the tribe went with an environmental impact statement, rather than a less complex environmental assessment, due to the "controversial" nature of gaming applications. The Bush administration began requiring an EIS for casino projects in response to litigation involving other newly recognized tribes.

"The Department of the Interior expressed a very strong preference ... to always do an EIS for gaming applications," Roy said.

In the case of another newly recognized tribe -- the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians of Michigan -- the process took several years. The tribe won legislative recognition in 1994 but wasn't able to open its casino until earlier this month due to litigation by anti-gaming groups.

But even if everything were to go smoothly in Massachusetts, the Mashpees faces other hurdles since slot machines and other Class III games are not legal in the state. The tribe would still have to negotiate a gaming compact, although it could offer Class II games once its land is placed in trust.

Apart from the tribe's challenges, the BIA's regional office in Nashville is under scrutiny in a land-into-trust case involving the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island. Although the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Massachusetts, ruled in favor of the BIA, the lawsuit could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The office is also dealing with a major land-into-trust application in New York. The Oneida Nation wants more than 17,000 acres in two counties placed in trust in what has become a highly controversial dispute.

The office has never dealt with a land-into-trust application for a newly recognized tribe either. Although several New England tribes won recognition in the 1980s and 1990s, all had their initial reservations placed in trust under special acts of Congress, leaving the BIA with a small role in the process.

That means the Mashpees are the first in the region to go through the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act process. The tribe qualifies for an exception, found in Section 20 of the law, that allows newly recognized tribes to create initial reservations.

The BIA is currently finalizing its first-ever Section 20 regulations, nearly 20 years after IGRA's passage in 1988. Since they aren't finished, the Mashpees are covered under current guidelines, which aren't as stringent as the proposed rules in terms of input from local and state governments.

Mashpee Casino Agreement:
Intergovernmental Agreement (July 2007)

Relevant Documents:
DOI Final Determination | Summary of Acknowledgment Cases | R. Lee Fleming Declaration

Only on Indianz.Com:
Federal Recognition Database V2.0 (May 2005)

Relevant Links:
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe - http://mashpeewampanoagtribe.com

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