BOSTON (CBS) — The U.S. Secretary of the Interior has ordered the historic Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe “disestablished” and that its land be taken out of trust, according to the tribe. The tribe said they would fight this action.
The Chairman Cedric Cromwell wrote on the tribe’s website Friday: “At 4:00 pm today — on 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 — the 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.”
The tribe called the secretary’s actions “cruel and unnecessary,” and said the secretary was not under court order to take away their land.
“It begs the question, what is driving our federal trustee’s crusade against our reservation?” the tribe wrote. “Regardless of the answer, we the People of the First Light have lived here since before there was a Secretary of the Interior, since before there was a State of Massachusetts, since before the Pilgrims arrived 400 years ago. We have survived, we will continue to survive. These are our lands, these are the lands of our ancestors, and these will be the lands of our grandchildren. This Administration has come and it will go. But we will be here, always.”
A U.S. Department of the Interior spokesman issued a statement, saying it is not true the land is being taken away.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe remains a federally recognized Tribe. In Fall 2015, Interior issued a decision approving a trust acquisition for the Tribe. Subsequently, both a federal district court and a federal circuit court panel comprised of former Supreme Court Justice David Souter, former Chief Judge Sandra Lynch, and Senior Judge Kermit Lipez, found there to be no statutory authority for this decision. The Tribe did not petition for a panel rehearing or a rehearing en banc. On March 19th, the court of appeals issued its mandate, which requires Interior to rescind its earlier decision. This decision does not affect the federal recognition status of the Tribe, only Interior’s statutory authority to accept the land in trust. Rescission of the decision will return ownership of the property to the Tribe.
Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey released a joint statement as well.
“The Mashpee Wampanoag have a right to their ancestral homeland no matter what craven political games the Trump administration tries to play. Disestablishment of the Mashpee Wampanoag reservation would re-open a shameful and painful chapter of American history of systematically ripping apart tribal lands and breaking the federal government’s word. We will not allow the Mashpee Wampanoag to lose their homeland. We will fight this cruel injustice that promises to have ripple effects across Indian Country.”