Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe casino foes lose big source of funding

Michelle Littlefield, right, is a named plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenges the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's casino bid. She is seen here with Mayor Tom Hoye of Taunton, Massachusetts, the city where the casino is being built. She shared this picture after critics accused her of being anti-Indian and said it was taken at her home in April 2012 during a meeting in which she hosted Hoye and tribal representatives. Photo from Facebook

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts is moving full steam ahead with its long-awaited casino as a lawsuit looms in federal court.

The tribe started work on the First Light Resort and Casino in April and the first phase is set to open in the summer of 2017. But opponents hope their lawsuit will put an end to the project.

“The casino will never be built,” named plaintiff Michelle Littlefield told The Boston Globe. “It just won’t.”

Littlefield's effort took a big step forward when Judge William G. Young scheduled a trial on July 11. The parties are due in court on Thursday for a pre-trial conference and a hearing on a pending motion to dismiss.

But the tribe is not named as a defendant in the Littlefield v. Department of the Interior lawsuit and can't be added due to its sovereign immunity. So a decision in favor of Littlefield might not necessarily put a halt to construction of the casino.

The Littlefield complaint is largely based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar. In that case, the justices held that the Bureau of Indian Affairs cannot place land in trust for tribes that weren't "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934.

The Mashpees didn't gain formal recognition until 2007. But the BIA, relying on a different provision of the Indian Reorganization Act that wasn't at issue in Carcieri, determined that the tribe qualified for the land-into-trust process because its members were living on a "reservation" in 1934.

That novel interpretation has never been challenged in court and Littlefield is prepared to see the battle all the way through. But she will have to do it without a major funding source -- a billionaire non-Indian gaming developer stopped contributing to the lawsuit a couple of months ago, The Globe reported.

“I’m looking forward to five years from now, when everyone is talking about the Littlefield decision,” Littlefield told the paper.

Get the Story:
Taunton casino’s foes will press on (The Boston Globe 6/28)

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Land-Into-Trust Documents:
Chairman Cedric Cromwell Announcement | Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Press Release | Bureau of Indian Affairs Press Release | Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn Letter to Chairman Cedric Cromwell | Record of Decision

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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