Chairman Cedric Cromwell of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, left, with elder Vernon Lopez. Photo: Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe shifts course on casino land-into-trust bid

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is going back to court to defend its casino land-into-trust application.

The tribe was expecting the Trump administration to make a revised decision on the First Light Resort and Casino in Massachusetts. But Chairman Cedric Cromwell announced a change in course after talking with the Department of the Interior.

“We will continue our existing appeal while working closely with the Interior on more options to forever protect our land base, bring thousands of jobs to Southeastern Massachusetts, and secure a prosperous future for the tribe and the entire region,” Cromwell said in a statement quoted in the Massachusetts media.

The tribe did not entirely explain why it has asked Bureau of Indian Affairs to suspend review of the application while it pursues an appeal in federal court. But opponents believe the new administration was going to reject the casino bid.

"Having been informed by the Department of Interior that they did not qualify for land in trust under Category One, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe requested a delay and later chose to withdraw from the process rather than accepting the inevitable," David and Michelle Littlefield, who are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that the tribe is appealing, said in a statement, The Cape Cod Times reported.

At issue in the lawsuit is the U.S. Supreme Court decision Carcieri v. Salazar. In the 2009 ruling, the justices held that the BIA can place land in trust only for those tribes that were "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934.

The Mashpees didn't gain formal recognition until 2007, long after that date. But the BIA, in a decision that broke new ground, said the tribe qualified because its citizens were living on a "reservation" in 1934.

However, as part of the lawsuit, a federal judge said the BIA did not fully consider the impacts of Carcieri when it approved the tribe's land-into-trust application in September 2015. The agency's revised decision is being referred to as "Category One" because it is connected to the "first definition" of "Indian" in the Indian Reorganization Act.

The tribe will presumably seek to revive the lawsuit before the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

Read More on the Story:
Mashpee tribe suspends request for land review (The Cape Cod Times 6/27)
In potential blow to Taunton casino hopes, tribe suspends quest for alternative route to land in trust (The Taunton Gazette 6/27)
Mashpee Tribe Withdraws Revised Land Into Trust Application; Will Pursue Legal Relief Instead (CapeCod.Com 6/28)
Proposed Taunton casino facing another roadblock (WPRI 6/28)

Federal Court Decision:
District Court of Massachusetts: Littlefield v. Department of the Interior (July 28, 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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