Tribe and Keating Allay Mashpee’s Concerns Over Legislative Fix


U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., and Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell have responded to concerns outlined in a letter from Mashpee selectmen about federal legislation aimed at reaffirming the tribe’s reservation, saying the bill would further protect commitments between the two governments.

“We’re being helpful to the town and the tribe,” said Keating on Wednesday. “That’s our goal.”

In response to legislation filed by Keating last month seeking to end a legal challenge to the tribe’s reservation, the town on Monday released a letter at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting relaying fears that the tribe would revisit land claims that bitterly divided the two governments in the late 1970s. A similar bill has been filed by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.

In their letter, selectmen say they worry that, without explicit reference to a 2008 intergovernmental agreement between the tribe and town, the legislation will create “prospective legal ambiguities that will benefit no one.”

In a statement issued Tuesday, Cromwell said that “nothing has changed” since the bill’s introduction.

“We want to assure the town ... that the legislation recently introduced to protect and re-affirm our reservation land is consistent with the (intergovernmental agreement), and if enacted will in no way modify or lessen the commitments we have made to the town and its citizens,” Cromwell said. “Quite to the contrary, by protecting our reservation and the status quo, we believe the legislation also serves to protect the (intergovernmental agreement).”

Keating concurred, saying the legislation “provides certainty” at a time when the status of the tribe’s land, consisting of 171 acres in Mashpee and 150 acres in Taunton, is all but secure. The U.S Department of Interior is weighing whether it can find an alternate legal framework to maintain a 2015 decision to take the land into trust, which had been remanded by a federal judge after a lawsuit was brought by would-be neighbors of the tribe’s $1 billion casino planned in Taunton.

“If the Interior Department moves and takes the land out of trust, that creates a legal uncertainty,” Keating said.

Keating previously said the bill was in response to fears that the Interior Department was “seriously looking at taking away the tribe’s status to own land.”

In their letter, selectmen wrote that they want a number of additional provisions in the legislation, including that the tribe “waive and release” any claims concerning real property within Mashpee and owned by private property owners, that the tribe “not exercise control over or limit access to” town land, and that the tribe not construct or operate a casino conducting either Class II or Class III gaming authorized under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in town.

Despite their requests, selectmen “agree that the passage of such legislation could yield mutual benefits for both the town and the tribe,” the letter says.

Thomas O’Hara, chairman of the Mashpee Board of Selectmen, said he didn’t want to comment beyond the letter on whether the board would oppose the bill if its suggestions weren’t incorporated, referring questions to town counsel Patrick Costello.

Costello could not be reached by the Times’ deadline Thursday.

In an email, Town Manager Rodney Collins wrote that he doesn’t consider the town’s position as being in opposition to the legislation. Selectman John Cahalane agreed.

Keating said his legal team has been working with the town to address the recommendations in the letter.

“We’re in discussions about what we can do,” he said.

Communication between the tribe and town have been marked by extended periods of silence and frequent postponement of joint meetings, limiting the ability to work on shared issues. During a rare meeting last month, tribe and town officials discussed a range of topics, including the tribe’s ongoing legal quandary.

There are still “many legislative steps going forward” before the bill he filed becomes law, Keating said.

“We’ll see what is possible between this discussion between the town and the committee and the tribe,” he said.

By Tanner Stening / The Cape Cod Times