At its 75th annual convention in Denver this week, leaders of the National Congress of American Indians spoke strongly against the Trump administration’s decision to halt the restoration of ancestral lands to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts, invoking a return to the disastrous policies of the “termination era.” At issue are 321 acres in the towns of Mashpee and Taunton, where the Wampanoag sought to build a casino. The US Interior Department issued a decision in 2015 to take the lands into trust for the tribe, to be added to their reservation. Ground was broken on the casino the following year. But opponents of the casino challenged the land transfer in the courts. In April 2016, US District Court Judge William Young found the 2015 Interior decision had bypassed the Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in Carcieri v Salazar, concerning a land recovery effort by the Narragansett Indian Nation of Rhode Island. In the Carcieri case, the high court ruled that the federal government had no power to grant land in trust for tribes recognized after passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. In September of this year, the Interior decision was reversed by Tara Sweeney, the new assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the Trump administration. Sweeney determined that the Mashpee Wampanoag-—whose ancestors welcomed some of the first settlers to the Americas more than 300 years ago—could not have their homelands restored because they were only federally recognized in 2007.
Some 200 members and supporters of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe marched through the Cape Cod town of Mashpee on Oct. 6 to protest the Trump administration’s reversal of their land recovery effort. Since the Interior decision was announced, Malaysian investors have announced that they are pulling out of the casino project. But Mashpee Wampanoag tribal council chairman Cedric Cromwell emphaszied that there are bigger issues at stake: “It’s truly about the land that we stand on, the blood and the bones of our ancestors that come from this land.” (Indianz.com, Oct. 24; Boston Globe, Oct. 6; Casino.org, Sept. 18)