"My Land, My Future": young tribal citizens take part in a #StandWithMashpee rally at the U.S. Capitol on November 14, 2018. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe awaits action on bill to keep reservation in trust

A controversial bill to keep the reservation of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in trust is slated for a hearing on Capitol Hill, The Cape Cod Times reports.

The House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States will take up H.R.312, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act, next Wednesday, according to the paper. A notice has not yet been posted by the House Committee on Natural Resources or by the Clerk of the House as of early Thursday afternoon.

The bill confirms that the tribe's reservation in Massachusetts remains in trust and cannot be challenged in court. A similar approach has been previously endorsed by Congress, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such legislation is constitutional with its decision in Patchak v. Zinke.

But opponents of the tribe's proposed casino claim the People of the First Light cannot restore their homelands through the land-into-trust process. They cite another Supreme Court decision, known as Carcieri v. Salazar, which impacts those tribes whose federal status may not have been settled until recently.

“It is a highly controversial and misguided piece of legislation,” David Tennant, an attorney who is representing the opponents, told The Times.

The Mashpee didn't gain federal recognition until 2007, long past the 1934 date identified in Carcieri. H.R.312 would ensure that the tribe isn't hindered by the ruling.

The Trump administration has come down on the side of the casino opponents, concluding that the tribe cannot follow the land-into-trust process as a result of Carcieri. That decision is being challenged by the tribe in federal court.

At this point, the reservation, which consists of land in two communities, remains in trust. The Bureau of Indian Affairs currently does not have a process to take a tribe's land out of trust, something that hasn't happened since the disastrous termination era.

In 2017, the Trump administration proposed regulations that would have created such a a process. But Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has told tribes that the Fee-to-Trust Regulations (25 CFR 151) are off the table due to widespread opposition in Indian Country.

Bernhardt has been nominated by President Donald Trump to serve as the Secretary of the Interior, following the sudden resignation of Ryan Zinke. A confirmation hearing took place on Thursday morning but the land-into-trust regulations did not come up.

The tribe originally anticipated movement on H.R.312 on the floor of the House this week. But the bill was never scheduled for action by the Majority Leader amid complaints in the conservative media.

Read More on the Story
Bill to aid Mashpee tribe up for vote next week (The Cape Cod Times March 27, 2019)

Federal Register Notices
Proclaiming Certain Lands as Reservation for the Mashpee Wampanoag (January 8, 2016)
Land Acquisitions; Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe (September 25, 2015)
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)

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