Despite setback, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe pushes ahead with Middleboro casino plan
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is going ahead with its application to take land into federal trust for a casino, despite a Supreme Court ruling last month that requires Congress to approve all such applications.
Last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling transferred responsibility for taking land into federal trust for Indian reservations from the Department of Interior, which had been in charge of the practice for 75 years, to Congress.
But Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell said the Bureau of Indian Affairs has given his tribe the “green light” to continue with the process that began with its August 2007 application.
The tribe contends that the court decision ruled it would take an act of Congress to take land into trust for tribes that were recognized after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. Cromwell said the tribe was under federal jurisdiction in the 1800s, and therefore not constrained by the decision.
“We were under federal jurisdiction as part of the 13 Colonies,” Cromwell said.
The ruling was in the case of Rhode Island Gov. Donald L. Carcieri vs. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and involved the Narragansett Indian Tribe and a 31-acre tract of land that the tribe purchased in Charlestown.
At issue was whether the land should be subject to state law, including a prohibition on casino gambling, or whether the parcel should be governed by tribal and federal law.
The Supreme court, in a 6-3 decision, sided with Carcieri’s argument that the Narragansett tribe cannot remove its land from state control using the Indian Reorganization Act because it was not recognized by the government when the act passed 75 years ago.
During a March 4 economic summit with American Indian leaders in Washington, D.C., Salazar said he was “troubled” by the ruling and pledged to continue the program while examining all options to resolve the land-into-trust issue raised by the court decision.
Cromwell said casino investors are still on board and dismissed speculation that the tribe is planning to scale down the facility. He said plans for a feasibility study are part of the “standard protocol” required for land into trust applications.
“Right now the tribe can’t do anything with that land,” said Richard Young president of Middleboro’s CasinoFacts and the statewide coalition Casino Free Mass. “The tribe needs an Act of Congress to take the land into trust,” Young said.
While the Mashpee leadership contends the tribe is exempt from the ruling, Joseph S. Larisa, Jr., the assistant solicitor for Indian Affairs for the town of Charlestown, R.I., disagrees. Larisa, who handled the Rhode Island case that made it to the Supreme Court, said the Mashpee were not on the 1934 list of tribes under federal jurisdiction.
“The decision applies to the Mashpee, the same way it applies to the Narragansett. They don’t have the right to strip state and town jurisdiction (from the land),” Larisa said.
In Massachusetts the ramifications of the decision are still being studied.
“We are still not prepared to comment. Our office is still reviewing the decision to determine its impact in the commonwealth,” said Jill Butterworth, deputy press secretary for Attorney General Martha Coakley.
According to Indianz.Com, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing on April 2 to address the Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar.