On Wednesday, (April 3) the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, represented by Vice Chairwoman Jessie little doe Baird, provided testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Indigenous Peoples of the United States, to the urgent need for passage of HR312 “Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act.”
“The damage done to our Tribe during the years in which the status of our reservation has been thrown into doubt is beginning to reach catastrophic levels.
Accordingly, we urge Congress to treat Mashpee fairly, and to act with all due haste to protect our reservation from further assault.” Baird stated.
HR312 was reintroduced into the 116th Congress in January by Congressmen Bill Keating. The bill has remarkable bipartisan support with a list of cosponsors including Representatives, Joe Kennedy III (D, MA); Don Young (R, AK), Raul Grijalva (D, AZ); Doug LaMalfa (R, CA); Tom McClintock (R, CA); Ruben Gallego (D, AZ) and Tom Cole (R, OK).
In his testimony before the subcommittee panel, Congressman Keating reiterated the importance of support and passage of HR312, “To this day, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe remains the only federally recognized tribe in New England where congress has not acted to create and protect its reservation.”
While the testimony was favorable toward the passage of HR312 during the hearing, the Tribe was deeply disappointed, by the State of Rhode Island's indifference to the very real hardship that the uncertainty of the status of the tribe's reservation has caused, and by the State's apparent position that it had no objection to a commercial casino in Massachusetts but would continue to oppose a tribal casino.
Professor Colette Routel of the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, provided response to assertions by the Executive Counsel representing the State of Rhode Island, “What Ms. Richards was saying about the Mashpee’s being tax-free, this is a myth in Indian Country. Native people pay taxes and tribes do. Ms. Routel added, “Federal government taxes Indian gaming operations. And there are taxes that flow, it’s just that they won’t flow to Rhode Island.”
Following the hearing, Chairman Cromwell expressed upbeat optimism and gratitude for the support of the legislation that if passed, will finally secure and protect what is most sacred to the Mashpee Wampanoag. “Our people, the original inhabitants of this land have survived for more than 12, 0000 years.
They laid their lives down in defense of this land. They cultivated it, they were nourished by it. Our ancestors did as we do today, hold this land sacred. The land is our identity and we will protect it, no matter the challenges we may face.” Cromwell said.