Legislation has been filed in the U.S. Senate, similar to a bill filed in the House, that could stop the potential revocation of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s land in trust.
Both bills could also help revive the tribe’s stalled casino project in Taunton.
Senate bill 2628, which is similar to the bill introduced in the House by U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-MA, seeks to protect the tribe’s reservation lands.
The Senate bill, is also called the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act, and was introduced in the Senate last Thursday.
“I would very much like to thank the outstanding leadership ofSenators (Ed) Markey and (Elizabeth) Warren on this bill to protect our ancestral homeland,” said Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell in a statement.
“This bill is further evidence that Congress, in both the House and Senate, see it as the honorable and just thing to do — re-affirm our right toa reservation for our people and to ensure that our Tribe will be treated equally under the law as other federally recognized tribes,” he said.
A federal court challenge by neighbors of a planned Native American casino in Taunton put the project on hold.
An initial ruling from the court questioned the way the Interior Department took land into federal trust in Mashpee and Taunton for the tribe.
Until the court challenge, the Mashpee tribe was moving forward with a casino project that was made possible by their land into trust designation and a state law that legalized casinos in Massachusetts.
Without legislative action to re-affirm the Interior Departments September 2015 decision that established the Mashpee tribe’s initial reservation, the tribe said the department could revoke their federal land designation.
The legislation would supercede any action by the Department of the Interior.
The tribe said losing its reservation would cause them to close its school, abandon a tribal housing project, forfeit federal environmental grants, and divert funding designated for critical social services.
It would also end their efforts to build the casino.
“I applaud the courageous leadership ofCongressman Keating and his fellow congressionalrepresentatives from across the United States who are responsible for this bipartisan bill to protect our ancestral homeland,” said Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell in a statement last week.
“It was our ancestors who greeted the Pilgrims and helped them survive. It was our forebears who signed the first treaty with the settlers, sharing our land and natural resources which made the establishment of Plymouth Colony possible,” he said.
As the state of Massachusetts prepares to celebrate the 400 the anniversary of the Pilgrims landing, Cromwell said there is no better time for the U.S. Congress to pass the bill.