Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in high stakes fight for casino and land

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe broke ground on the First Light Resort and Casino April 5, 2016. Photo from Facebook

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts could lose more than just a casino as part of an ongoing lawsuit.

The focus of the case known as Littlefield v. Department of the Interior is the tribe's gaming facility in the city of Taunton. Opponents have convinced a federal judge to send the land-into-trust application for the First Light Resort and Casino back to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for further review.

But the underlying theory in the case -- that the tribe can't follow the land-into-trust process -- easily extends to the tribe's other properties, The Boston Globe points out. The properties include a burial ground, tribal headquarters and other essential sites in the town of Mashpee.

“This is reservation ground and should remain reservation forever,” Naomi Walker, a caretaker of the cemetery, told The Globe.

The land-into-trust application included about 150 acres in Mashpee and about 170 acres in Taunton. The BIA would have to reconsider everything if the judge's ruling in the case stands.

"We’re not focused on Mashpee, but if reservation status unravels in Taunton, then it unravels in Mashpee too," Adam Bond, an attorney and casino opponent, told The Globe.

The New England Casino Race: Tribal and commercial gaming facilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island

The tribe has filed a motion to intervene in the case. If it's granted, it could help the tribe protect its interests as the litigation goes forward.

"Besides the tribe’s strong spiritual and cultural ties to the land, the tribe has a very substantial financial interest at stake, both with respect to existing future debt as well as potential future revenues that will will translate to economic development for an entire tribal community," Chairman Cedric Cromwell said in a declaration submitted in court last Monday "If the land is taken out of trust, the tribe will face a substantial financial loss, which represents a severe and debilitating threat to the economic development and overall prosperity of the tribe."

The Obama administration hasn't said what it is doing in response to the judge's decision.

Read More on the Story:
In casino battle, tribe’s sovereignty could be at risk (The Boston Globe 8/21)
Northeast's casino landscape growing crowded (AP 8/21)

An Opinion:
John Kostrzewa: A game of chess at the casinos (The Providence Journal 8/21)

Court Decisions:
District Court of Massachusetts: Littlefield v. Department of the Interior (July 28, 2016)
D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals: Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon v. Jewell (July 29, 2016)

Supreme Court Decision in Carcieri v. Salazar:
Syllabus | Opinion [Thomas] | Concurrence [Breyer] | Dissent [Stevens] | Concurrence/Dissent [Souter]

Department of the Interior Solicitor Opinion:
M-37029: The Meaning of "Under Federal Jurisdiction" for Purposes of the Indian Reorganization Act (March 12, 2014)

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