Breaking: Federal Ruling Allows Mashpee Wampanoag Land to Remain in Trust

WASHINGTON D.C. – The Department of the Interior on Wednesday issued a ruling that confirms the federal recognition status of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.

The decision is a significant development for the tribe, which was initially granted federal recognition several years ago, but then challenged by residents who opposed their plans to build a casino in Taunton.

A statement on the tribe’s website from Tribal Chairman Brian Weeden on Wednesday night said the decision confirmed that the Department of the Interior has authority under the Indian Reorganization Act to take such action.

Weeden’s statement also said the decision further confirmed that the tribe’s reservation has remained in federally protected trust status since the reservation land was first placed in trust six years ago on November 10, 2015.”

“This is a momentous day for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, for indigenous communities across the country, and for defenders of justice,” said Weeden in the statement.

“We are grateful that President Biden and his administration, including Secretary Deb Haaland, Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland, and Solicitor Robert Anderson, have faithfully implemented the law and respected the sovereign rights of our tribe to protect our reservation,” he said.

Weeden said the decision will allow the Mashpee tribe to reclaim and protect their land and better serve their members for generations.

“I congratulate the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on this major victory, which conclusively reaffirms the trust status of their reservation,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren. 

“The Massachusetts congressional delegation and I have proudly stood with the tribe throughout its fight to protect their ancestral homelands.”

“Today’s decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs does not make up for centuries of wrongs foisted upon the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe by the United States government, but it does represent a new chapter of self-determination for the People of the First Light,” said Congressman Bill Keating. 

“I applaud the BIA’s decision to look beyond the political calculations of the prior administration and instead focus on the needs and wishes of the Tribe and extend my congratulations to Chairman Weeden and the Tribe as a whole as they benefit from this decision going forward,” Keating said.

The Secretary of the Interior under the Trump administration ordered the reservation be disestablished and land taken out of trust in 2020. That move came as the tribe was trying to build a $1 billion First Light Resort and Casino in Taunton.

The questioning of whether the tribe qualified for land-into-trust status has been part of litigation that has gone on for years.

The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld a decision in 2016 that the Tribe did not qualify for land-into-trust status because it was not under federal jurisdiction at the time that the Indian Reorganization Act was passed.

It was not immediately clear if the most recent decision to affirm the Wampanoag’s land in trust status would help re-start efforts to build the casino in Taunton.


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