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)

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe continues fight for homelands

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is defending its homelands in two federal courts as it seeks intervention from Congress.

One lawsuit challenges the Trump administration's rejection of the tribe's land-into-trust application for about 320 acres in Massachusetts. The tribe filed the complaint in federal court in Washington, D.C.

"The tribe sought the trust land to support the needs of its members and provide land for self-determination and self-governance, housing, education and cultural preservation," the September 27 complaint reads.

The federal government's response was due December 9. But a federal judge on Tuesday granted an unopposed motion to extend the deadline to January 9, 2019, court records show.

A second lawsuit is pending in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. This one arose after opponents in Massachusetts argued that the tribe does not quality for the land-into-trust process because it wasn't "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934.

The tribe didn't gain formal acknowledgment of its status until 2008, long after that date.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, during the Obama administration, examined the tribe's history and determined that it met the "federal jurisdiction" standard. A federal judge later ruled that the analysis was flawed.

Rather than appeal the ruling, the BIA took another look at the tribe's application. That's when the Trump administration reversed course and concluded that the tribe does not quality to have its homelands restored.

Separately, the tribe mounted its own appeal of the ruling to the 1st Circuit, which was put on hold while the BIA's review was underway. The tribe is seeking another stay while the lawsuit in the D.C. court moves forward.

"A delay pending the entry of judgment in the D.C. action would not prejudice or harm any party to this proceeding, but would solely maintain the status quo,' the tribe said in a status report submitted to the 1st Circuit.

All of the legal drama could end if Congress takes action on the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act. The bill (H.R.5244 | S.2628) prevents the tribe's reservation from being taken out of trust.

“The same country that we helped form is now turned against us,” Chairman Cedric Cromwell told HuffPost ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. “It’s quite frightening that our own country is attacking us during the holiday that we helped establish.”

H.R.5244, which enjoys bipartisan support, was received favorably by the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs at a hearing on July 24. The next step would be a markup before the House Committee on Natural Resources.

S.2628 was referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs but it has not been granted a hearing. Still, the Senate could always take action on H.R.5244 if that version moves ahead.

But tribal homelands bills have encountered hurdles. Four such measures that already passed the House have stalled in the Senate as the 115th Congress comes to a close.

If lawmakers do not take action before the end of the year, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act would have to be reintroduced in the 116th Congress, which begins on January 3, 2019.

Read More on the Story
Government asks for extension in Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe lawsuit (The Cape Cod Times November 27, 2018)
This Thanksgiving, The Trump Administration Is Taking Land From The Tribe That Welcomed The Pilgrims (The Huffington Post November 22, 2018)
The Native Americans Who Saved the Pilgrims Could Lose Their Land, Again (VICE November 21, 2018)

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