Mashpee Wampanoag nation ‘disestablished’

Mashpee Wampanoag

The chairman of the¬†Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe¬†announced March 27 that the US Secretary of the Interior has issued an order disestablishing its reservation on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod¬†and taking its land out of federal trust.¬†Chairman Cedric Cromwell Qaqeemasq¬†said in a statement: “[T]oday‚ÄĒon the very day that the United States has reached a record 100,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and our Tribe is desperately struggling with responding to this devastating pandemic‚ÄĒthe Bureau of Indian Affairs informed me that the Secretary of the Interior has ordered that our reservation be disestablished and that our land be taken out of trust. Not since the termination era of the mid-twentieth century has a Secretary taken action to disestablish a reservation.”

In ordering that the tribe’s land be removed from federal trust, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt apparently¬†relied¬†on the US Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar. In that case, the high court¬†found¬†that the federal government lacked authority to acquire land and hold it in trust for tribes that were not recognized as “Indian tribes under federal jurisdiction”¬†when the Indian Reorganization Act was enacted. The IRA, enacted in 1934, authorized the Secretary of the Interior to buy land and hold it in trust for Native Americans, as well as giving reservations limited powers of self-government.

The Mashpee Wampanoag-‚ÄĒwhose ancestors welcomed some of the first settlers to the Americas more than 300 years ago‚ÄĒwere only federally recognized in 2007. The current controversy stems from a legal challenge brought by nearby residents to the tribe’s plan to establish a casino on reservation lands newly acquired in 2015. A federal district judge in Massachusetts ruled in April 2016 that the new land acquisition violated the¬†Carcieri decision; the acquisition was formally reversed by the Interior Department in September 2018.

Bernhardt’s new decision to remove all the tribe’s lands from federal trust follows a ruling¬†by the¬†US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit last month upholding the district court ruling against the tribe.¬†Bernhardt’s decision was assailed by Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey in a¬†joint statement¬†asserting that the tribe has “a right to their ancestral homeland no matter what craven political games the Trump administration tries to play.” (Jurist, March 30;¬†WBUR, Boston, March 28)

On March 30, the Mashpee Wampanoag filed a motion¬†asking¬†the US District Court for the District of Columbia to issue an emergency order that would delay the removal of¬†its land from trust pending judicial review. “While the Tribe is grateful for this temporary reprieve, we remain deeply concerned about the fate of our Reservation,”¬†Chairman Cromwell said in a statement. “That said, the outpouring of support from both the Native and non-Native community gives us hope and bolsters our courage.”¬†(Cape Cod Times, April 1)

Image: Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

  1. SCOTUS rules large part of eastern Oklahoma remains Indian land

    The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote July 9 that a large part of eastern Oklahoma, including the city of Tulsa, remains Native American territory. The case was brought by Jimcy McGirt, a Native American man who was convicted of sex crimes in Oklahoma state court. He argued that because he is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the alleged crime took place on tribal land, he is not subject to the jurisdiction of local and state courts. Instead, he claimed to be subject to the jurisdiction of the Creek Nation and federal authorities. In a decision written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the court agreed, citing an 1866 treaty, which the majority found had not been legally abrogated by Congress. (Jurist, USA Today)

    It’s a momentous decision, and all the more so at a time when the Trump administration is launching a new push to “terminate” Native American reservations.¬†It has especially big implications for the 1851¬†Fort Laramie Treaty¬†with the Sioux,¬†and longstanding¬†corporate plans for mineral exploitation¬†in South Dakota’s Black Hills.

  2. Feds drop legal battle against Mashpee lands

    The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe scored a legal victory Feb. 19 when the US Interior Department withdrew a Trump administration appeal that aimed to revoke federal reservation designation for the tribe’s land in Massachusetts.

    A federal judge in 2020 blocked the Interior Department from revoking the tribe’s reservation designation, saying the department’s decision to do so was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.” The Trump administration appealed the decision, but the Interior Department has now moved to dismiss the motion.

    In a filing in a federal appeals court in Washington DC, the Interior Department said it had “conferred with the parties and none opposes this motion.” A judge granted the motion and dismissed the case.

    The tribe’s vice chair, Jessie Little Doe Baird, called it a triumph for the tribe and for ancestors “who have fought and died to ensure our land and sovereign rights are respected.”

    “We look forward to being able to close the book on this painful chapter in our history,” Baird said in a¬†statement. “The decision not to pursue the appeal allows us continue fulfilling our commitment to being good stewards and protecting our Land and the future of our young ones and providing for our citizens.” (AP)

  3. SCOTUS limits decision on Native American sovereignty

    The US Supreme Court on June 29 ruled in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta that the state of Oklahoma can prosecute non-Native Americans who commit crimes against Native Americans on tribal territory. This decision limits the 2020 McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling, which held that much of eastern Oklahoma was still Creek sovereign territory and that the state could not prosecute crimes committed by Native Americans within those boundaries. (Jurist)

  4. Muscogee Creek Nation files suit against Tulsa

    The Muscogee (Creek) Nation filed a complaint in US federal court Nov. 15 against the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, accusing the city of violating tribal sovereignty by writing tickets to tribal members for traffic violations committed within reservation boundaries.

    The nation asserts that the city lacks criminal jurisdiction over Native Americans on the tribe’s lands without express congressional authorization, as per the 2020 US Supreme Court case McGirt v. Oklahoma. The tribe also cited a recent appellate court decision which ruled that the city of Tulsa lacked jurisdiction to prosecute a speeding ticket issued to a Choctaw tribal member on the Muscogee reservation. Tulsa is the second largest city in the state of Oklahoma and is situated almost entirely on Native American reservations, which include those of the Cherokee and Muscogee Nations. (Jurist)