Descendants of the country’s earliest settlers greeted by the Wampanoag people are backing the tribe in a fight to secure about 321 acres of reservation land under threat.
The General Society of Mayflower Descendants, made up of about 30,000 lineal descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims, announced last month that it supports legislation pending in Congress that would end a legal challenge to the tribe’s reservation and bar future lawsuits.
The group’s governor general, George P. Garmany Jr., said in a statement the agreement between the Europeans and Native Americans in 1621, which led to 54 years of peace, is the “only example of cooperation” in American history.
“In light of the fact that our ancestors collectively chose to live in peace for 54 years, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants fully supports today’s Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and joins in support of legislation known as the Mashpee Wampanoag Reservation Reaffirmation Act,” Garmany said.
On Dec. 8, the society voted to contact legislators, urging them to protect the tribe’s reservation land in Mashpee and Taunton, where the tribe hopes to build a $1 billion resort-casino.
Neighbors of the proposed casino sued the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2016, challenging the agency’s decision to take the tribe’s land in trust, effectively creating the reservation. A federal judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and the trust land decision was sent back to the department for reconsideration.
After nearly two years, the Interior Department reversed course on Sept. 7, declaring the tribe ineligible for trust lands and casting doubt on its prospects for future self-governance.
In a statement, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell said the society’s support “demonstrates that reconciliation and reciprocity are still possible” at a time of bitter division.
“This is a truly historic moment in which descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims stand shoulder to shoulder with us as descendants of the Wampanoag people who broke bread and brokered a long-lasting peace with their ancestors,” Cromwell said.
Leaders of the Wampanoag Nation in 1629 deeded land to the Pilgrims to establish Plymouth Colony, according to the tribe.
The society has drafted a letter to Congress formally endorsing the legislation, which was last reviewed by the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs in July.
In the letter, Garmany said he found it “unconscionable” that the Interior Department ruled that the tribe was not under federal jurisdiction at the time of the Indian Reorganization Act’s passage — a requirement spelled out in a 2009 Supreme Court decision known as Carcieri v. Salazar — which is the reasoning used in the Sept. 7 decision.
It is unclear whether the legislation will be taken up this session.
The group’s support comes after the tribe announced it would have to shutter its school, slash programs and lay off more employees next year should the bill fail. The tribe’s financial backers, Genting Malaysia, recently announced a $440 million loss associated with its investment in the casino project.
By Tanner Stening