Mashpee Tribal Leaders Hopeful Reservation will be Affirmed by Interior Department

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal leaders are hopeful a formal decision by the U.S. Department of Interior on the review of the tribe’s Land-in-Trust status will be announced by September 21, 2018.

After a decades-long quest to establish a reservation, in September 2015, the Interior Department took 321 acres of tribal land in Mashpee and Taunton to be held in trust by the federal government as an initial reservation for the historic tribe. A subsequent lawsuit challenging the Department's legal reasoning in establishing the reservation prompted a federal district court judge to remand the case back to the Interior Department to determine if the Tribe qualified to have land held in trust under a different legal category.

Tribal attorneys have been notified by Interior Department officials that the review to determine whether the Tribe submitted sufficient evidence to establish proof of being under federal jurisdiction prior to the 1934 as defined by the Indian Regulatory Act is near completion. Interior Department officials indicated they would inform the Tribe of the conclusion of that review by September 21.

“We remain hopeful the Department of Interior will do the right thing and reaffirm our trust lands. We submitted mounds of evidence that show we were indeed under federal jurisdiction before 1934. Unless back-room politics comes into play, an objective analysis of the evidence should result in a positive finding,” said Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell.

While Cromwell acknowledged there has been talk of the possibility the Interior Department would issue a decision not favorable to the Tribe and were considering ways to disestablish the Tribe’s reservation, he was heartened by Acting Bureau of Indian Affairs Secretary recent testimony before a Congressional subcommittee that disestablishing a reservation would set a bad precedent, harkening back to the termination era of the 1950s when the federal government sought to take sovereign land away from tribal nations.

Nevertheless, Cromwell said, his administration has been working hard to garner support for the Mashpee Reservation Reaffirmation Act, which if passed, would permanently protect the Tribe’s reservation and end the legal challenge to the Interior Department’s authority to hold land in trust on behalf of the Mashpee Wampanoag.

“We will exhaust every means at our disposal to protect our ancestral homeland. Thankfully, we have the full support of the entire Massachusetts Congressional delegation and broader bipartisan support to ensure that my people don’t suffer another injustice at the hands of those who seek to revise history and undermine tribal sovereignty,” Cromwell said.

Over the past four decades in which the Tribe has formally sought to preserve its culture and assert its right to self-determination, it has had the support of Massachusetts lawmakers each step of the way.

“We are an honorable people who stand by our word. We have fought and died defending this country and we have honored our commitments to the Commonwealth, the City of Taunton and the Town of Mashpee. All that we ask now is for justice to prevail so that we are not torn away from the land our people have inhabited for the past 12,000 years,” Cromwell said.