Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell put the call out to the tribes across the country on Tuesday, October 23, in an effort to protect the tribe’s land and received unanimous support from a national tribal body.
A motion proposed by Mr. Cromwell to the general assembly of the National Congress of American Indians on Tuesday received a unanimous positive vote. Mr. Cromwell asked for support on pending federal legislation that would preserve and protect the historic tribe’s reservation.
“Each and every one of you, as tribal leaders, truly understands the challenges we are going through today,” Mr. Cromwell told the 75th annual gathering of tribal leaders, who represent the 573 federally recognized tribal nations across the country. “United we stand, and united we fall.”
“Indian country, I love you and I hope you understand our situation,” the Mashpee chairman said. “I’m calling on each and every one of you, please, to bring the message to your communities that we have a very serious threat attack happening here to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.”
The US Department of the Interior ruled in September that the tribe was not “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934 and therefore that such jurisdiction was not a basis for maintaining the tribe’s 321-acre reservation.
Following the decision, tribal attorneys filed a complaint in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the Interior Department’s failure to take action to preserve and protect the tribe’s reservation as “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary” to the department’s own administrative decisions.
In 2015, the department declared the tribe’s land in Mashpee and Taunton to be the tribe’s initial reservation. That decision was challenged in separate litigation filed in Massachusetts by a group of landowners in East Taunton.
In his remarks, Mr. Cromwell noted the irony that the tribe’s ancestors gave the Pilgrims the land to establish Plymouth Colony and is now in the position of having to defend its right to hold onto just a small percentage of the tribe’s ancestral homeland.
Mr. Cromwell noted that because all federally-recognized tribes should be treated equally, “it’s a natural conclusion that federally recognized tribes should have trust lands.”
“I’m asking that you stand with Mashpee,” Mr. Cromwell said.
Standing with Mashpee, Mr. Cromwell said, translated into lining up support behind the Mashpee Wampanoag Reservation Reaffirmation Act (HR 5244), which was filed in the US House of Representatives in March of this year. Passage of the act would permanently protect the tribe’s reservation and put an end to legal challenges.
Cromwell urged the assembled gathering to contact their congressional representatives to urge the bill be passed and also invited tribal leaders to join a planned Mashpee Wampanoag Walk and Rally in the nation’s capital slated for November 14 outside the US Capitol building.
Before leaving the podium, Cromwell also asked NCAI President Jefferson Keel for the group’s formal support for the tribe’s efforts to retain its reservation land through litigation. The request was voted on and passed.
By SAM HOUGHTON, Mashpee Enterprise