The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe leads a march from the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., to the U.S. Capitol on November 14, 2018. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe welcomes introduction of homelands legislation

A bill to protect the homelands of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has once again surfaced in Congress.

Rep. William Keating (D-Massachusetts) introduced H.R.312 on Tuesday. The bill, which enjoys the support of Democratic as well as Republican lawmakers, ensures that the tribe's reservation in Massachusetts can't be taken out of trust by the federal government.

“We are extremely grateful that a bipartisan group of Congressional representatives understands the injustice of taking sovereign land away from the first Americans and have moved swiftly to ensure this nation does not return to the dark days of removing indigenous people from their land," Chairman Cedric Cromwell said in a statement, The Mashpee Enterprise reported.

During the Obama administration, the Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the tribe's land-into-trust application for properties in the town of Mashpee and the city of Taunton. The tribe's headquarters are in Mashpee while the Taunton site is to be used for a $1 billion gaming development known as the First Light Resort and Casino.

Opponents of the casino went to federal court and secured a ruling which required the BIA to take another look at the application. Less than two months after Tara Sweeney, the new Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, came on the scene, the Trump administration backed away from the tribe.

"I walked into this decision," Sweeney told tribal leaders when asked about the issue during the 75th annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians last October.

At this point, the tribe's reservation -- consisting of about 320 acres in total -- remains in trust. That's primarily because the BIA lacks a mechanism to remove tribally-owned land from trust status.

Regulatory changes proposed by the Trump administration, however, would change that. The draft proposal requires the BIA to comply "with a final court order and any resulting judicial remedy, including, for example, taking land out of trust."

H.R.312 prevents that from happening by reaffirming the trust status of the reservation and requiring the dismissal of any litigation challenging that status. It also adopts an intergovernmental agreement between the tribe and the town of Mashpee, The Enterprise reported.

The last time the BIA took a tribe's land out of trust was during the devastating termination era.

Congress took a similar approach to the lands issue with the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act, which protected the reservation of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, also known as the Gun Lake Tribe, from litigation. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the 2014 law last year in a decision known as Patchak v. Zinke.

H.R.312 has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources. One of the bill's co-sponsors is Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona), who is the new chairman of the committee.

Read More on the Story
Congress Reintroduces House Tribal Bill (The Mashpee Enterprise January 7, 2019)
Bill to protect Mashpee tribe's land refiled (The Cape Cod Times January 7, 2019)
Mashpee tribe's casino land bill re-introduced in Congress (The Taunton Daily Gazette January 8, 2019)
Mashpee Wampanoag Casino Still A Pipe Dream, But New Bill in Congress Could Rescue Tribe (New Boston Post January 8, 2019)

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