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Cape Cod’s Mashpee Tribe reclaims land trust

Trump-era law aimed to remove Massachusetts land from Native Americans

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO

A Cape-Cod-based tribe’s land designation was saved when the U.S. Interior Department dropped an appeal against their bid for federal recognition. The Mashpee Tribe received more than 300 acres in a land trust recognized in 2015 by the Obama Administration. This federally-protected land was theirs until the Trump Administration moved to revoke it because the tribe was not officially recognized until 2007.

According to Indian Country Today, the Trump Administration used a 1934 law, the Indian Reorganization Act, to justify the appeal, because the Mashpee tribe was not recognized at that time.

The tribe planned to use the land to build a $1 billion casino in Taunton, to which neighboring residents expressed opposition. The Trump Administration in 2018 reversed the decision to take up the acres into trust for the Tribe. The Mashpee Tribe fought back when they were notified of the reversal in March 2020.

The tribe sees the Interior Department’s decision to remove its appeal as a victory.

“We are humbled and grateful for the support we have leaned on along the way, and grateful to the Department of the Interior for withdrawing its appeal of the decision in the federal district court that ruled in the Tribe’s favor,” Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Vice Chairwoman Jessie Little Doe Baird said in a statement. “We look forward to being able to close the book on this painful chapter in our history.”

During the fight to reclaim the land in 2020, the tribe’s lawyer, Tami Lyn Azorsky of Dentons LLP, presented evidence that the tribe was under federal designation before 1934, including records of Mashpee Indians attending a boarding school operated by the United States specifically for Native American children. She also brought up reports of the federal government’s plans to take action against the Mashpee tribe in the past, but because no action was taken, the Interior Department dismissed the evidence.

The defense argued that most of the evidence only showed state-level jurisdiction, not federal. Ultimately, a federal judge blocked the Trump Administration’s revocation of the land. The administration immediately appealed.

Little Doe Baird said the recent decision to let go of this appeal shows respect for the tribe’s rights.

“The decision not to pursue the appeal allows us [to] continue fulfilling our commitment to being good stewards and protecting our land and the future of our young ones and providing for our citizens,” she said.

mashpee, native americans