Chairman Cedric Cromwell of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. Photo: Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe hails bill to reaffirm status of homelands

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is welcoming a new bill that reaffirms the trust status of its homelands in Massachusetts.

H.R.5244, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act, was introduced on March 9 by Rep. William Keating (D-Massachusetts). The bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, ratifies a Bureau of Indian Affairs decision to place about 320 acres in trust for the tribe, including a site where a gaming facility is planned.

"I applaud the courageous leadership of Congressman Keating and his fellow congressional representatives from across the United States who are responsible for this bipartisan bill to protect our ancestral homeland," Chairman Cedric Cromwell said in an update to tribal citizens on Tuesday. "Such bi-partisanship is proof of the urgency that our rightful place in history remains in tact and our land remains in trust."

The text of H.R.5244 closely tracks the language of the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act, which became law in 2014. The Gun Lake law also ratified a BIA land-into-trust decision and, more significantly, required the dismissal of a lawsuit which challenged the BIA's decision.

H.R.5244 states that any lawsuit challenging the Mashpee Wampanoag "shall be promptly dismissed."

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a case known as Patchak v. Zinke, upheld the constitutionality of the Gun Lake law in a February 27 decision. By a vote of 6 to 3, the justices confirmed that Congress can take action to protect tribal homelands from litigation.

But the plaintiffs in an ongoing challenge against the Mashpee Wampanoag land-into-trust decision are crying foul. Michelle Littlefield told The Cape Cod Times that they will appeal “all the way to the Supreme Court” if H.R.5244 becomes law.

“It should be stressed that this tribe lost in court in a strongly worded decision,” Littlefield, who is the lead plaintiff in the case and lives in the city where the First Light Resort and Casino is planned, told the paper. “Obviously this is just a Hail Mary pass because they have failed at every possible level.”

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources. Although a hearing has not been scheduled, the House has advanced at least three land-into-trust affirmation measures in the current session of Congress.

All appear to be on solid legal ground with the Supreme Court's ruling in Patchak.

Read More on the Story:
Bill would end challenge to Mashpee tribe's reservation land decision (The Cape Cod Times March 21, 2018)
Federal Legislation Could Revive Mashpee Wampanoag Casino Plan (CapeCod.Com March 21, 2018)

U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Patchak v. Zinke:
Syllabus | Judgment [Thomas] | Concurrence [Breyer] | Concurrence [Ginsburg] | Concurrence [Sotomayor] | Dissent [Roberts] | Full Document: Patchak v. Zinke

More U.S. Supreme Court Documents:
Oral Argument Transcript | Docket Sheet No. 16-498 | Questions Presented

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