The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has responded to a letter issued by the Mashpee Board of Selectmen last month that took exception to a bill that, if passed, could end the tribe’s ongoing legal woes.
U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., introduced the legislation in March, which seeks to reaffirm a 2015 decision by the U.S Department of Interior to take 171 acres in Mashpee and 150 acres in Taunton of tribal reservation land into trust, and create statutory safeguards to bar future litigation on the matter in federal court. U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., has since introduced the same bill in the Senate.
The original letter, which was signed by the board on April 18 and released at its regular meeting, said the town believes the legislation should include language about a 2008 intergovernmental agreement between the town and the tribe that “memorialized” the tribe’s commitment to not renew land claims that led to a degradation of relations between the two governments in the late 1970s.
In a response letter addressed to Selectmen Chairman Thomas O’Hara, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell said the tribe has “deep concerns” about the “potential negative impact” of altering the legislation on the tribe’s ability to “get it enacted before the Department of the Interior moves to disestablish our reservation.” The congressional action is intended as a fix to a 2009 Supreme Court decision, known as Carcieri v. Salazar, that held the Secretary of the Interior could not take land into trust for tribes that were not under federal jurisdiction before 1934.
The town wants to add a number of provisions to the proposed law, including directing that the tribe “waive and release” any claims concerning real property within Mashpee and owned by private property owners; “not exercise control over or limit access to” town land; and not construct or operate a casino conducting either Class II or Class III gaming authorized under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in town.
Cromwell said he is confident there are other ways to address the board’s concern. The language in the bill “strictly adheres” to similar legislation that has reaffirmed reservations for other tribes, he said. Two such bills were passed by overwhelming majorities in Congress. Cromwell argues that changing the language to include the town’s revisions may “imperil” the bill’s passage.
The legislation would actually work to maintain existing agreements between the town and the tribe, Cromwell added.