MASHPEE — As a new chapter begins in the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s legal fight for its land, a high stakes lobbying campaign in the nation’s capital is pitting powerful gambling interests against a foreign casino developer with the fate of the tribe’s 321-acre reservation hanging in the balance.
In a year marked mostly by setbacks for the tribe, notable attorneys and lobbyists — some working at cross-purposes —are converging on the halls of Congress in a struggle to win over lawmakers who may soon consider legislation that, if passed, would declare the tribe’s reservation lawful, reversing findings by the U.S. Department of the Interior and a federal court judge.
A bill sponsored by U.S. Rep William Keating, D-Mass., would do just that: settle the multiyear and so far successful legal challenge brought by neighbors of the tribe’s proposal to build a resort-casino in Taunton, effectively greenlighting the project and ending any question about the legality of the tribe’s trust lands.
The legislation is a pivotal piece in the tribe’s fight to protect its sovereignty. Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Cedric Cromwell has urged support for the bill, emphasizing the grave and unprecedented threat facing the tribe, which spent decades pursuing federal recognition and trust status with the government.
“I’m asking people of goodwill and those concerned with justice for the indigenous people of this — the first Americans — to stand with us in calling on Congress to protect our reservation and ensure we don’t become the first tribe since the dark days of the Termination Era to lose its land,” Cromwell said in a statement after the Sept. 7 decision from the Interior, which said the tribe wasn’t under federal jurisdiction in 1934, the year the Indian Reorganization Act became law.
But in a deeply polarized political climate, getting the bill passed would require congressional Republicans to support the wishes of the all-Democrat Massachusetts delegation, and given the potential for an Elizabeth Warren presidential bid in 2020, its chances may be significantly affected. Warren is a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the tribal bill.
In addition, the Rhode Island congressional delegation has quietly come out in opposition to the bill to protect its gambling revenues. The tribe’s proposed casino, which is slated for fertile Region C ground, is not far from Rhode Island’s eastern border.
Lobbyists and their causes
Genting Malaysia, which is financially backing the tribe’s legal fight to secure its reservation and the casino project, has spent more than $1 million on various lobbying firms in 2018, three times more than it did in 2017, according to federal lobbying disclosures. The overseas developer was the third biggest spender on tourism/lodging lobbying in the U.S. this past year, according to the website Open Secrets.
The tribe’s overall debt to Genting, which also finances parts of tribal government operations, is roughly $426.3 million, according to a recent filing by the Malaysian casino developer. Genting said it is deliberating with the tribe to “review all options” concerning the recoverability of its investment, according to the filing.
Genting paid the law firm Dentons US more than $1 million to lobby on “casino development and land related issues” this year, according to filings. Dentons is the world’s largest firm by number of lawyers, according to its website.
Dentons, on behalf of Genting, in turn has spent between $130,000 and $150,000 on “Interior Department land decisions” through Gavel Resources LLC, according to filings.
Gavel’s lobbyists include, among others, Richard Pombo, a former member of the House of Representatives from California who was among the highest-paid beneficiaries of tribal lobbying and illegal campaign contributions when the tribe was seeking federal recognition in the 2000s.
That period of the tribe’s history was tainted by the legacy of its former chairman Glenn Marshall, who in 2009 was sentenced to 3½ years in federal prison for embezzling nearly $400,000 from the tribe to pay his own bills, making illegal campaign contributions, filing false tax returns and fraudulently receiving Social Security benefits while holding a full-time job. Pombo was unseated in November 2006 amid questions about his ties to Jack Abramoff, a notorious lobbyist who spent several years behind bars in connection with a wide-reaching federal corruption probe.
Pombo did not return a message requesting comment for this story.
In addition to the tribe’s more long-term lobbyists, including Delahunt Group LLC —which helps to, among other things, secure grants — and Akerman LLP, Genting recently contracted with Ballard Partners, touted as one of Washington’s most influential lobbying firms.
The firm is run by Brian Ballard, who was President Trump’s Florida finance chairman for his 2016 campaign. Ballard, dubbed “the most powerful lobbyist in Trump’s Washington” by Politico, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican causes over the past two years, according to data from the Federal Election Commission’s website. Genting spent $90,000 on Ballard’s firm so far this year.
Given a perceived hostility on the part of the Trump administration toward prevailing Indian land policies — which many scholars and observers outside and within Indian Country have noted — Ballard may seem like an odd pick to represent the tribe’s interests, if Ballard’s work is, in fact, tied to the legislation.
“In some way Ballard Partners would be working at cross-purposes here,” said Ronald Shaiko, senior fellow and associate director of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy at Dartmouth College. “At base, lobbyists should be pretty pragmatic (in) how they do business. Firms are getting bigger, buying other firms, so they can lobby both sides.”
Competing gambling interests arrayed against the tribe appear to stem from one commanding source, according to filings: Chicago-based casino magnate and billionaire Neil Bluhm, who is backing a proposed casino in Brockton through Mass Gaming & Entertainment, whose casino proposal was denied by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in 2016.
But Mass Gaming is asking for reconsideration of its proposal, and its principal owner, Rush Street Gaming, has thrown hundreds of thousands of dollars behind an effort to influence lawmakers and regulators at the state and federal levels, according to filings — a large portion of which appears to be directed at thwarting the tribe’s casino effort, the pending legislation and garnering local support for the revival of Mass Gaming’s proposal.
It’s unclear precisely how much money, based on lobbying disclosures alone, is working against the tribe.
“This is not just about the Keating legislation,” said Joe Baerlein, a spokesman for Mass Gaming. “There are a whole host of other gaming-related issues that we’re dealing with.”
Rush Street also has casinos in New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Baerlein said.
At the state level, Mass Gaming has spent $210,000 on lobbying so far this year with respect to “issues related to expanded gaming,” according to state filings. Baerlein said that is tied to “outreach” across nine different communities, including boards of selectmen and town administrators.
Leadership in Taunton and Brockton have come down on opposite sides of the issue, with Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye Jr. reaffirming support for the tribal proposal over the summer. Around the same, Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, decrying the department’s “prolonged delay” in issuing a decision with respect to the tribal proposal, which has stymied prospects for development on the parcel of land where Mass Gaming wants to build.
Baerlein said the spending by Genting “dwarfs” the spending against the tribe, adding that the Massachusetts congressional delegation ought to “take a hard look” at the role the foreign company has played in influencing land decisions at the federal level.
More than casinos
Tribal representatives see it quite differently. Heather Sibbison, legal counsel for the tribe and a registered lobbyist for Dentons, said a tribe’s right to hold land has “profound historical and cultural meaning.”
“But for almost everyone else on the other side who is working to disestablish the tribe’s reservation, this is just a big, huge fight over casino market share,” she said. “If it loses its reservation, it loses its school, its ability to provide basic social services; it loses its fundamental right to have land on which it can engage in true self government.”
This year, Rush Street Gaming, formerly Rivers Casino, a gambling parlor owned by Bluhm, has spent $160,000 in lobbying fees through American Continental Group, citing “general gaming issues,” according to filings.
Manus Cooney and David Urban are listed as American Continental lobbyists working on behalf of Rush Street Gaming. Cooney is former chief counsel and staff director of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and Urban is cited as a “prominent Republican lobbyist” who joined the Trump campaign in its early days as an adviser in the Pennsylvania and Indiana primaries, according to the firm’s website.
But the firms cited as lobbying directly against the legislation include Locke Lord Public Policy Group LLC and Freemyer & Associates P.C.
Twin River Management Group — which owns casinos in Rhode Island — has spent $60,000 on Locke Lord specifically on the issue of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act, according to filings, and Rush Street Gaming paid Freemyer & Associates P.C. $40,000 so far this year.
Lobbying the lawmakers
In addition, Locke Lord gave $7,500 to U.S. Rep. Robert Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which is responsible for taking up the legislation, over the past year, according to contribution filings. Bishop was among Locke Lord’s top three highest-paid recipients over the past election cycle.
The firm has also supported Democrats, giving money to U.S. Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Keating. Cicilline’s political committee received $1,000 from Locke Lord earlier this year, and Keating’s political committee reported two $1,000 contributions from them — one on March 16 and another on March 19 — just days after he introduced the legislation.
Tribal lobbyists, with Dentons at the helm, have also targeted members of the House committee, most notably U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., who chairs the subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs. Dentons gave LaMalfa’s political committee $9,000 just days before Keating introduced the tribe bill.
Altogether, Dentons’ political action committee has given about $40,000 to lawmakers sponsoring the legislation throughout the 2017-2018 campaign cycle, filings show.
Incumbents typically receive more than challengers, and “well over half of their money comes from organized interests” instead of individual contributions, Shaiko said.
Shaiko said it’s typically wise for lobbying firms to give money to political candidates on both sides of the aisle; that way, if a congressional chamber flips, they can stay in business.
“It’s less ideological than it used to be,” he said.
Interior Department and Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe lobbying for 2018
For the tribe:
Genting paid Dentons US $1.1 million to lobby lawmakers and the Interior Department on “casino development and land related issues”
Dentons, on behalf of Genting, paid Gavel Resources LLC $240,000 to lobby lawmakers and the Interior Department on “Interior Department land decisions”
Genting paid Ballard Partners $90,000 to lobby the Interior Department on “gaming rules and regulations”
The tribe paid $60,000 to Delahunt Group LLC
The tribe paid $10,000 to Akerman LLP
Against the tribe:
Twin River Management Group paid Locke Lord Public Policy Group LLC $60,000 to lobby congress on “Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act”
Rush Street Gaming, parent company of Mass Gaming and Entertainment, paid CSA Strategies LLC $50,000 to lobby lawmakers and the Interior Department on “issues related to casino development” and “issues related to licensing of Internet gaming/poker”
Rush Street Gaming paid American Continental Group $160,000 to lobby lawmakers and the Interior Department on “general gaming issues impacting Rivers Casino”
Rush Street Gaming paid Freemyer & Associates P.C. $40,000 to lobby lawmakers and the Interior Department on “H.R. 5244 (the tribal bill)”
MASHPEE — Plaintiffs suing the Interior Department over its 2015 decision to take land into trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe have requested that the tribe withdraw its appeal of the case or be required to file opening briefs within the next 60 days, according to the latest filing with the appeals court.
The request came after the tribe sought another stay in its ongoing appeal of a 2016 judgment in U.S. District Court in Boston that said the Interior Secretary did not have the authority to take its land into trust because the tribe was not under federal jurisdiction in 1934 — the year the Indian Reorganization Act was passed. Neighbors of a casino the tribe planned to build on land in Taunton had sued the federal government, challenging the Interior Department’s decision to take the land into trust in Taunton and in Mashpee.
In a boldly worded request filed with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit on Oct. 9, attorney David Tennant argued the tribe should not be permitted another stay in the appeal process because it opted to “take its chances” with a remanded review of their trust-lands eligibility, according to court documents.
Tribal attorneys on Sept. 27 requested a stay in the appeal of its case, according to court documents, until the resolution of a new suit, which it filed that same day. The new action challenges the Sept. 7 determination from the Interior that reversed an Obama-era decision to secure 321 acres of tribal land into trust. The agency’s latest ruling declared the tribe was not under federal jurisdiction in 1934.
Both parties to the original suit had waited more than two years for that remanded ruling. The Interior Department issued a draft of that same decision 14 months earlier, but withdrew it and asked for supplemental briefing on an issue “never before raised in any court or land-into-trust-proceeding,” according to Tennant.
For the next year, the Interior Department considered whether the tribe’s historical relationship to Massachusetts could be viewed as a substitute for the under federal jurisdiction requirement of the IRA. That theory ultimately did not pass muster.
When reached Sunday, Tennant said the tribe is avoiding the “inevitable, final conclusion” to the litigation, saying that Judge William Young’s original decision in 2016 was “free of doubt.”
Tennant said if the tribe be permitted another stay, the appeal could go dormant for years.
“It’s beyond any type of a normal stay,” he said.
“To say now that this 2016-filed appeal should be tacked onto the backend of a just-commenced lawsuit in a different circuit is not simply ‘moving the goalposts,’ it is relocating them into a different stadium,” Tennant wrote in the filing. “Enough’s enough.”
Tennant argued that the new lawsuit is an attempt to “hijack” the ongoing proceeding and “defeat the purpose of the parties’ joint stipulation.”
“I’ve done a ton of appellate work over the years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.
Tennant also argued that the “ghost” of a tribal casino has thwarted economic development in the region.
“When you have land that is not legally in trust, and there’s no economic development, it’s a bad situation for all parties,” he said.
Representatives of the tribe could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell has repeatedly rebuked the lawsuit as being funded by an “anti-Indian,” competing casino interest, referring to Chicago-based developer Neil Bluhm.
Tribal leaders have also emphasized that the lawsuit more fundamentally threatens its ability to self-govern, should its land be removed from trust. It would be the first time since the so-called Termination Era in the 1950s that the federal government would effectively disestablish a tribal reservation it had previously proclaimed legal, according to legal experts and tribal citizens.
MASHPEE — The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe will hold a rally Saturday centered on the importance of land sovereignty.
The event is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is meant to raise awareness of sovereignty “and its critical importance to the Mashpee Wampanoag,” according to a statement from the tribe.
The uncertainty of the trust status of the reservation poses a threat to the tribe’s programs and needed services, the statement says.
A walk will begin at the Mashpee Community Park on Great Neck Road North and end at the traditional powwow grounds next to the Community and Government Center at 483 Great Neck Road South. A potluck meal will follow, and authorities on indigenous rights will speak. The statement does not name the speakers.
A tribal spokeswoman said the event was open to non-tribe members.
Mashpee tribe sues Interior Department over land decision
By Tanner Stening
Complaint calls agency’s recent reversal ‘arbitrary’ and ‘capricious.’
MASHPEE — In a new chapter of a long-running legal saga, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is now suing the U.S. Department of the Interior in an effort to defend the validity of a prior decision by the agency to take its land into trust, according to court documents.
Tribal attorneys filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday challenging a Sept. 7 determination from the department that reversed an Obama-era decision to secure 321 acres of tribal land into trust. The latest ruling declared that the tribe was not under federal jurisdiction in 1934 — the year the Indian Reorganization Act was passed.
The new complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the department and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, alleges that the agency “failed to apply established law” by “contorting relevant facts and ignoring others to engineer a negative decision” with respect to the tribe’s land.
The suit alleges that the recent department decision “indefensibly reverses course” from the administrative decisions it has made for other tribes in regard to federal jurisdiction and “badly ignores” the case law interpreting what that phrase means, documents show.
“The (tribe) therefore files this complaint to challenge the department’s 2018 decision and correct (its) arbitrary, capricious and unlawful actions,” the suit states. The suit goes on to reassert evidence that the tribe submitted during its bid for federal recognition and throughout the course of the lawsuit to prove it was under federal jurisdiction.
In a statement, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell said his tribe has been “utterly abandoned by our federal trustee.”
“We are urgently petitioning the United States Congress and the federal courts to end this nightmare — to prevent what appears to be an intentional return to the dark days of the termination era, when tribal lands were taken out of trust and the federal relationship with tribal governments disavowed,” Cromwell said.
The Interior Department took 321 acres in Mashpee and Taunton into trust for the tribe in 2015, declaring it a sovereign reservation. Under such designation the federal government holds the title to the property but the tribe may decide how to develop or use the land for its own benefit.
The tribe’s plans included a $1 billion casino in Taunton, but neighbors of that proposed resort sued the Interior Department in 2016.
A federal judge ruled that the secretary of the Interior did not have the authority to take the land into trust because the tribe was not under federal jurisdiction and was therefore unqualified under a definition of “Indian” used by Interior officials. The judge sent the case back to the department for further review.
Before its revised ruling earlier this month, the department had been deliberating whether Massachusetts had exercised authority over the Mashpee tribe in a manner that could be seen as a substitute for the federal jurisdiction requirement under the 1934 law. The decades-old statute remains the primary governing tool over Indian affairs, promoting self-determination and self-government.
The lawsuit, as in similar cases, rested on the interpretation of four words: “now under federal jurisdiction,” a phrase that has vexed tribes seeking trust status for newly acquired land with the federal government through the years, most notably the Narragansett Tribe’s efforts in Rhode Island, which culminated in the Supreme Court decision known as Carcieri v. Salazar.
But the Carcieri decision never established the criteria by which a tribe could demonstrate it was under federal jurisdiction, prompting the Interior Department’s solicitor to issue an interpretation of the ambiguous phrase in 2014.
In her written interpretation, Hilary Tompkins rejected the idea that there is one “clear and unambiguous meaning” of “under federal jurisdiction,” writing that the only information available to help decipher what Congress meant by the phrase was gleaned from a Senate hearing on May 17, 1934 — that it was intended as “a means of attaching some degree of qualification to the term ‘recognized Indian tribe.’” She concluded that the Interior Department would continue to take land into trust on the basis of a two-part inquiry that would “fill in gaps where Congress has been silent.”
In a letter sent to Cromwell on Sept. 7, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney wrote that after reviewing the evidence and submissions, the state’s history of exercising authority over the tribe provided no indication of federal authority sufficient to prove it was under federal jurisdiction.
While the evidence “demonstrates a federal awareness of the Massachusetts Indians and the Commonwealth’s regulation of their affairs, it does not establish or reflect any federal actions taken on behalf of, or for the benefit of, the Mashpee Tribe or its members as such,” Sweeney wrote. Because the tribe was not “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934, it did not qualify under the Indian Reorganization Act’s first definition of ‘Indian’ nor under the second definition, as interpreted by the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, she wrote.
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe official says Interior Department made “wrong decision”
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s second-in-command got a chance Wednesday to tell the head of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs how she felt about a Trump administration finding that the Cape tribe didn’t qualify to have its land taken into trust.
“You did a wrong thing,” Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Vice Chairwoman Jessie “Little Doe” Baird told Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney during a meeting of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C. “I can love and respect you as an Indian woman, but we need to stick together.”
In August, Sweeney was sworn in as the first Alaska native to hold the position.
On Friday, Sweeney sent a letter to Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Cedric Cromwell informing him of the agency’s determination that the tribe was ineligible to have land taken into trust because it was not under federal jurisdiction at the time of the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934.
In a video posted on the tribe’s Facebook page that was later taken down, Baird is seen speaking to Sweeney during a meeting of the National Congress of American Indians, telling her that the department’s finding was “a wrong decision.”
Sweeney, who was standing before a lectern listening, appeared to nod several times.
“We have to make decisions that are good, right and moral, not just politically correct,” Baird said.
Baird asked Sweeney to reconsider Friday’s ruling.
“Because what happens to us in Massachusetts is going to spread across the country,” she said. “You’ve got to think about what you’re doing.”
The Interior broke its silence on the ruling on Tuesday; a spokeswoman for the agency said it will keep the 321 acres of reservation land in Mashpee and Taunton in trust until the conclusion of a lawsuit brought by neighbors of the tribe’s proposed $1 billion casino in Taunton.
“Consistent with our practices and procedures, the department will continue to hold the tribe’s land in trust until a final court order is imposed,” Bureau of Indian Affairs spokeswoman Nedra Darling said.
Cromwell has repeatedly said a negative ruling from the Interior Department would indicate that it is poised to disestablish the tribe’s reservation.
Members of the tribe are on Capitol Hill this week for “Tribal Unity Impact Days,” a two-day event hosted by the NCAI, which issued a statement on Tuesday objecting to the decision. The organization is demanding an “immediate response” from the Interior to clarify its land policies toward Indian tribes.
Earlier in the day, Baird and Cromwell addressed an assembly of tribal nations and their representatives.
Baird was visibly emotional when discussing the tribe’s long history, dating back 12,000 years in the region, and its many difficulties in attaining federal acknowledgement.
“We waited 30 years for an answer after we applied,” she said, adding that the tribe has worked hard since that time. “Our application for federal acknowledgement turned into a 54,000-page application, the largest one in history because they kept asking us for more.”
The trust lands application was 14,000 pages, she said, listing off the housing, education programs, court system and other advances the tribe has made.
“All of these things are going to go away with this decision and we are asking Indian Country to stand up and support us,” she said.
Interior: Mashpee tribe’s land remains in trust pending appeal
By Tanner Stening
Posted Sep qq, 2018
MASHPEE — The U.S. Department of the Interior will continue to hold the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s land in trust until a legal challenge to its status is finalized, a spokeswoman for a division of the agency said Tuesday.
“Consistent with our practices and procedures, the department will continue to hold the tribe’s land in trust until a final court order is imposed,” said Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
On Friday, the Interior Department sent a letter to tribe Chairman Cedric Cromwell informing him of the agency’s determination that the tribe was ineligible to have land taken into trust because it was not under federal jurisdiction at the time of the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934 and therefore didn’t qualify under a definition of “Indian” spelled out in the law. Interior officials had previously found in 2015 that the tribe qualified under another definition allowing the federal government to take 321 acres of land in Mashpee and Taunton into trust on the tribe’s behalf.
The Department of Interior was sued in 2016 by neighbors of a $1 billion casino project the tribe proposed for its reservation land in Taunton. U.S District Court Judge William Young ruled in 2016 that the federal government did not have the authority to take the land into trust in the way it had, remanding the decision to the agency for reconsideration.
The tribe’s appeal of Young’s 2016 decision is still pending in the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals. The Interior Department will not take action with respect to the tribe’s land until that appeal is decided, Darling said.
In November, the appeals court approved a request by the tribe that it be allowed to file a status report within ten days of the Interior Department’s decision, according to court documents.
The lawsuit brought by the Taunton neighbors, as in similar cases, rested on the interpretation of four words: “now under federal jurisdiction,” a phrase that has frustrated tribes seeking trust status for newly acquired land with the federal government over the years, most notably the Narragansett Tribe’s efforts in Rhode Island, which resulted in the Supreme Court decision known as Carcieri v. Salazar.
David Tennant, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the Taunton case, said Tuesday before Darling’s comments that he expects the federal agency to “unwind” the 2015 decision so that “it is consistent with (Friday’s) decision.”
“The land is not lawfully in trust; the land was not lawfully declared a reservation,” Tennant said. “We certainly expect the Interior to take steps to recognize that reality.”
If the Interior Department doesn’t move to take the land out of trust, his legal team will be back in court requesting that Young “order the agency do what they are required to do,” Tennant said.
“It’s not rocket science,” he said.
On Tuesday, Cromwell said Friday’s finding by the Interior Department is the first instance in which the Carcieri decision is being wielded by the agency to “terminate a tribe.” If it stands, it would be the first time since the Termination Era — a period from the 1940s to the 1960s when Congress pushed to end tribal independence by removing federal protections — that the federal government appears to be in a “detribalization mode,” he said.
“Our own country is attacking us,” he said. “America just attacked its own people.”
News of Friday’s finding and its potential effects is still reverberating across Indian Country.
On Tuesday, the National Congress of American Indians issued a statement condemning the Interior Department’s decision, saying it “severely restricts the (tribe’s) sovereignty and its ability to exercise meaningful self-governance.”
In addition, the organization criticized the agency for failing to consider the “totality of the tribe’s evidence” it says proved the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe was under federal jurisdiction in 1934.
“The tribe’s reservation is now being threatened with disestablishment,” the statement says. “The tribe is effectively stripped of important ‘reliance interests’ that will affect the social service programs it provides to its citizens, as well as the economic development ventures (including gaming) that the tribe relies on to support critical tribal government functions and provide job opportunities to its people.”
If the land is taken out of trust, it could affect the tribe’s sovereignty, and it would be subject to state and local regulations and taxation, according experts in Indian law.
But those same experts have maintained that a reservation can only be disestablished by an act of Congress, specifically through legislation.
And Cromwell said the Interior Department doesn’t have a way to take the land out of trust.
“There’s no policy or regulatory structure in place,” Cromwell said. “There’s no vehicle for them to do that.”