Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe faces lawsuit over gaming project

An artist's rendering of the First Light Resort and Casino in Taunton, Massachusetts. Image from Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is eager to start work on its long-delayed casino but opponents are already planning a lawsuit.

The case will apparently center on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar. The 2009 ruling states that the Bureau of Indian Affairs can only place land in trust for tribes that were "under federal jurisdiction" as of 1934.

The Mashpees didn't gain formal recognition of their status until May 2007. Still, the BIA's lengthy record of decision determined that the tribe can follow the land-into-trust process because its members were living on a "reservation" as of 1934.

"The historical record demonstrates that a reservation was set aside for the Mashpee Indians via colonial land deeds that were under the protection of the colonial court and government," Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the BIA, wrote in the 137-page document. "The record further shows that the reservation continued to exist in 1934 and at that time, Mashpee members were residing within its boundaries."

Leaders of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts received good news about their-land-into-trust application on September 18, 2015. Photo from Facebook

The decision is a huge victory for the tribe, whose leaders filed the land-into-trust application in August 2007. Attorney Adam Bond, though, told The Taunton Daily Gazette that he is preparing a lawsuit.

“I have clients who opposed the taking of land into trust and who have standing to actually file a suit with that regard,” Bond told the paper.

Other newly-recognized tribes have faced Carcieri-type lawsuits after the BIA approved their land-into-trust applications. But so far, the federal courts have sided with the government although one significant case -- involving the Cowlitz Tribe in Washington -- remains in active litigation.

As for the Mashpees, the tribe hopes to break ground on the $500 million First Light Resort and Casino on 151 acres in the city of Taunton by the spring of 2016. Construction could take a couple of years so the facility could be open by 2018.

“I don’t know about any lawsuits," Chairman Cedric Cromwell said at a press conference on Monday, The Taunton Daily Gazette reported. "I know we have land into trust."

Get the Story:
Mashpee Wampanoag, Taunton officials celebrate victory in pursuit of casino (The Taunton Daily Gazette 9/22)
Mashpee Wampanoag detail Taunton casino plans (The Boston Globe 9/22)
Mitigation Work Will Kick Off Casino Construction (The Falmouth Enterprise 9/22)
Taunton: Mashpee Wampanoags, Taunton Leaders Tout Benefits of Casino (WATD 9/22)
Rival developer predicts litigation will snarl tribe's casino bid (State House News Service 9/22)
Tribe says it will fix Taunton infrastructure (The Bulletin Leader 9/22)
With Nod From Feds, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Plans $500 Million Taunton, Mass., Casino (The Hartford Courant 9/22)
Twin River officials unfazed by Taunton tribal casino prospects (The Fall River Herald News 9/22)
Local tribe announces plans for Taunton casino (ABC 9/21)
Has Massachusetts reached peak casino? (The Boston Globe 9/21)
Massachusetts Gaming Commission to weigh future of Brockton casino proposal after tribal recognition (MassLive 9/21)

Some Opinions:
Editorial: Taunton, tribe are back in the casino game (The Taunton Daily Gazette 9/22)
Editorial: More casino confusion (The Boston Herald 9/22)

Relevant Documents:
Chairman Cedric Cromwell Announcement | Mashpee Wampanoag Trbe Press Release | Bureau of Indian Affairs Press Release | Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn Letter to Chairman Cedric Cromwell | Record of Decision | Attachment I - Legal Descriptions | Attachment II - Maps | Attachment III - Mitigation Monitoring and Enforcement Plan | Attachment IV - Response to Comments on the Final Environmental Impact Statement

Federal Register Notice:
Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Fee-to-Trust Transfer of Property and Subsequent Development of a Resort/Hotel and Ancillary Facilities in the City of Taunton, MA and Tribal Government Facilities in the Town of Mashpee, MA by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe (September 5, 2014)

DOI Solicitor Opinion:
M-37029: The Meaning of "Under Federal Jurisdiction" for Purposes of the Indian Reorganization Act (March 12, 2014)

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Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe aims to start casino work next year (9/21)
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Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe still waiting for BIA answer on casino (02/02)

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