A yearslong battle over the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's 321 acres of reservation land in Mashpee and Taunton, Massachusetts, is over and future generations "will forever have a place to be Wampanoag," the tribe's chairman said Wednesday night.
The U.S. Department of the Interior's assistant secretary for Indian affairs on Wednesday issued a 55-page decision confirming the legal status of the tribe's reservation land and closing the books on a legal saga that has stretched across three presidential administrations.
"This is a momentous day for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, for indigenous communities across the country, and for defenders of justice," said Brian Weeden, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. "Today's decision allows us to reclaim and protect our cherished Land and better serve the Mashpee Tribe for generations to come. While the injustices inflicted upon us cannot be erased, we can look to the future -- a future of freedom, a future of prosperity, and a future of peace. We wish this not just for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, but for Tribal communities all across the land."
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe's land in trust status had been under contention for years. The tribe was federally recognized in 2007 and the Obama administration took the land into trust for the tribe in late 2015. The Trump administration worked to undo that designation and ordered the tribe's land be taken out of trust status in March 2020.
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But a federal judge in June 2020 determined the Trump administration's 2018 declaration that the tribe does not qualify as "Indian" under the federal Indian Reorganization Act was "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law." The case was remanded to the Department of the Interior for the agency to reconsider, and the Biden administration's Department of the Interior in February officially withdrew the government's appeal.
The ruling on the tribe's land in trust could have an impact on the state's commercial casino industry.
The Mass. Gaming Commission could still issue a license for a casino in Region C -- the commission's name for Bristol, Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties -- but some worry that commercial casino operators might not be willing to invest the minimum $500 million in a project that could have to compete with the $1 billion casino the tribe had planned to build in Taunton.