The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is losing reservation status for more than 300 acres in Massachusetts under a Trump administration rollback.
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe was notified last Friday evening by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs that it will rescind its land reservation designation, according to the Associated Press. Additionally, the land will no longer be held in federal trust, meaning that the Mashpee Wampanoag people will no longer have tribal authority over that land.
Other benefits that could also be potentially revoked now that the land is no longer a federal trust include housing opportunities for tribal citizens, jurisdiction over natural resources on the land and other protections of tribal culture and “life ways,” according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The reservation’s more than 300 acres currently remain in the tribe’s ownership, as it had prior to the federal government’s decision to take the land into trust, according to the tribe’s chairman Cedric Cromwell.
He continued to say that if the decision is executed, it would destroy the tribal infrastructure, which includes an independent judicial system, a police force and indigenous language school. Currently underway are housing developments and a $1 billion resort casino.
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Cromwell called the decision “cruel” and “unnecessary” according to AP, referring to the difficulty tribes are having as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Talk about being blindsided. It was a sucker punch in the face from the bully you thought was your friend,” Cromwell said. “I thought they were calling to see how we’re doing in all of this. To do it at 4 p.m. on a Friday during a pandemic? That’s sneaky.”
Tribes everywhere are now worried over the decision to revoke reservation statuses, according to Jean-Luc Pierite of the advocacy group the North American Indian Center.
“This is an existential crisis for tribes,” Pierite said. “It’s a power grab and a land grab by the Trump administration.”
The designation is an Obama-era policy that enacted special land designations over tribal lands in 2015. A recent federal court ruling permits the U.S. Department of the Interior to revoke these designations. A U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston upheld a lower court decision in February that ruled the federal government was not authorized to take land into trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag.
The tribe has not challenged the decision. Cromwell told AP that a separate lawsuit is still pending in Washington, D.C.
The Mashpee Wampanoag currently maintain its federal recognition, along with about 600 other tribes, such as the Pacific-based Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians, whose land reservation status were also removed from federal trust in April 2019. The federal government cited the discovery of an endangered bird species, including the California condor, as the reason for the redesignation.
In response to this, Congress eventually passed a defense spending bill that December with a provision allocating more than 1,400 acres of land for the tribe to build housing.
Cromwell told AP that the Mashpee Wampanoag would fight the decision.
“These are the lands of our ancestors, and these will be the lands of our grandchildren,” he told reporters. “We will not rest until we are treated equally with other federally recognized tribes and the status of our reservation is confirmed.”
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