House Committee on Natural Resources: Full Committee Markup

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe welcomes movement on bill to protect homelands

A bill to protect the reservation of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is moving forward on Capitol Hill.

The House Committee on Natural Resources approved H.R.312, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act, at a markup session on Wednesday. The bill, which prevents the tribe's trust lands in Massachusetts from being taken out of trust, can now be considered for passage by the full U.S. House of Representatives.

"Today’s action provides an incredible and much needed lift for our people," Chairman Cedric Cromwell said in a message to tribal citizens after the markup. "The remarkable bipartisan support of the legislation has been a unifying force not only across Indian Country but across the United States of America.

H.R.312 enjoys bipartisan support in the House, with six Republicans signed on as co-sponsors. But GOP members of the committee spoke out against the bill during the session, with one attempting to amend it to bar the tribe from using its trust land for gaming.

Chairman Cedric Cromwell of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe addresses the #StandWithMashpee rally at the U.S. Capitol on November 14, 2018. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

During his remarks, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) cited opposition from Rhode Island, where the Democratic political establishment is opposing the bill because they fear competition for the gaming establishments in their state. His amendment was rejected by a vote of 24 to 10, with three Republicans crossing the aisle to help Democrats.

In the end, the panel approved the bill by a vote of 22 to 7. All the no votes came from Republicans, though those same GOPers -- Rep. Paul Cook (R-California), Rep. Tom McClintock (R-California) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) -- joined Democrats in supporting the legislation.

Cook is the top Republican on the House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States. McClintock and Cole are co-sponsors of H.R.312.

The bill was introduced to resolve questions about the tribe's ability to restore homelands through the land-into-trust process. Congress enacted a similar law in 2014 and did the same in 2018 to clear up doubts that have arisen as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar.

According to the ruling, a tribe can only go through the land-into-trust process if it was "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934. The Mashpee didn't gain recognition of their status until 2007, well after the cut-off date

But the Bureau of Indian Affairs, during the Obama administration, concluded that Carcieri wasn't a hindrance to the tribe because its citizens were living on a reservation in 1934. The Trump administration has since reversed course in response to litigation filed by opponents of a planned casino in the city of Taunton, only about 20 miles from an existing casino across the border in Rhode Island.

The reservation, however, remains in trust at this point. The BIA has confirmed that it lacks a mechanism to take a tribe's land out of trust, something that hasn't happened since the disastrous termination era.

The Trump administration had proposed regulations that would have provided such a mechanism. Due to tribal opposition, the newly confirmed head of the Department of the Interior has said the BIA won't move forward with the changes.

In a separate action, the committee on Wednesday approved H.R.375, a bill to "fix" the Carcieri decision by authorizing the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take land into trust for all tribes, regardless of the date of federal recognition. The vote was 27 to 9, with all the no votes coming from Republicans.

Read More on the Story
Mashpee tribe bill headed to House floor for vote (The Cape Cod Times May 1, 2019)
House Committee Advances Mashpee Wampanoag Bill (CapeCod.Com May 2, 2019)

House Committee on Natural Resources Notice
Full Committee Markup (May 1, 2019)

Federal Register Notices
Proclaiming Certain Lands as Reservation for the Mashpee Wampanoag (January 8, 2016)
Land Acquisitions; Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe (September 25, 2015)
Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Fee-to-Trust Transfer of Property and Subsequent Development of a Resort/Hotel and Ancillary Facilities in the City of Taunton, MA and Tribal Government Facilities in the Town of Mashpee, MA by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe (September 5, 2014)

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