Massachusetts tribe regains federal approval for Taunton Land

Posted on: Dec 23, 2021, 4:35 a.m.

Last update on: December 23, 2021, 4:36 a.m.

A Massachusetts tribe that has fought for years for its federal land rights to build a billion dollar casino complex has finally got the hand it has been seeking for so long.

Massachusetts Taunton Mashpee Tribe CasinoTaunton Mashpee Massachusetts Tribe Casino
The pictured land in Taunton, Massachusetts, which sat vacant for more than a decade, has finally found a permanent place in the US Federal Trust. With the landmark Home Office decision this week, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is a big step forward in building their Massachusetts casino complex. (Image: Getty)

The Home Office’s Office of Indian Affairs (DOI) this week closed the books of a court case that dragged on for three presidential administrations. The final verdict is that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe does indeed have ancestral ties to the area where they purchased 321 acres over ten years ago, and have the right to have those lands entrusted to the federal trust.

The DOI concluded that the Taunton and Mashpee tribal property rightly deserved to be held in trust by the United States. The designation paves the way for the Native American tribe to build a Class II casino.

Native Americans can operate such bingo games on their tribal property held in the trust. But for Class III games – slots and table games – the tribe must enter into a gambling agreement with the state.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is one of only two federally recognized tribes in Massachusetts, the other being the Gay Head Wampanoag Tribe on Martha’s Vineyard.

Tale of two interiors

The DOI in 2015 under the Obama administration took the 321 acres of the Wampanoag Tribe in federal trust. The Tribe announced a $ 1 billion, 151-acre integrated casino resort development in Taunton called First Light Resort and Casino, the project backed by Malaysia-based gaming and hospitality conglomerate Genting Group.

Local opposition in Taunton, however, blocked the massive venture. And then, in March 2020, the DOI under the Trump administration informed the Mashpees that it was reversing its 2015 decision and evicting the 321 acres from the federal trust.

The DOI in 2020 said the land should not be accepted into the trust because the Mashpee tribe was not recognized by the federal government when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed in 1934.

The policy was partially credited with the 2020 domestic move. Trump was at the time embroiled in a bitter dispute with U.S. Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren (D), whom the then president called “Pocahontas.”

Warren and other members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation introduced and supported a bill in Washington that would establish Mashpee’s country as sovereign, regardless of the position of the DOI.

This week’s DOI decision under the Biden administration sides with the inside opinion of 2015. Bryan Newland, deputy secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said the verdict was final.

I find the legal authority to acquire the packages exists under the Indian Reorganization Act, ”Newland wrote in a 55-page conclusion. “The 2015 decision to acquire these parcels in trust made by then-Assistant Indian Secretary Kevin Washburn should be upheld. “

The tribe celebrates the result

Newland’s letter, to Mashpee Wampanoag President Brian Weeden, “confirms the 2015 decision to acquire the plots in trust as a tribal reserve.” The Deputy Indian Secretary said his conclusion was based on “numerous documents in the tribal archives” and “many historical sources and modern archaeological and academic sources”.

Weeden says the DOI verdict secures the tribe’s prosperity for generations to come.

This is an important day for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, ”he said. “While the injustices inflicted on us cannot be erased, we can look to the future – a future of freedom, a future of prosperity and a future of peace. “

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