The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe vowed Friday to fight for its land after the Trump administration announced its reservation would be "disestablished" and its land trust status removed.
This is unconscionable. And making this move in the middle of a pandemic seems to be a clear attempt to steal land while people are otherwise occupied. We all need to speak up. https://t.co/XBG4alCYWo— Kate Messner (@KateMessner) March 28, 2020
The announcement came "on the very day that the United States has reached a record 100,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus," tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell said in a Friday statement, calling the move "cruel" and "unnecessary."
Cromwell said the Bureau of Indian Affairs informed him of the order from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
"The secretary is under no court order to take our land out of trust," Cromwell said in his statement. "He is fully aware that litigation to uphold our status as a tribe eligible for the benefits of the Indian Reorganization Act is ongoing."
"It begs the question, what is driving our federal trustee's crusade against our reservation?" he added.
Rep. Bill Keating (D-Mass.), who last year introduced legislation to protect the tribe's reservation as trust land in Massachusetts, called the order "one of the most cruel and nonsensical acts I have seen since coming to Congress."
The legislation has stalled in the Senate, the congressman said, since "President Donald Trump tweeted his opposition in an attempt to assist his lobbyist and special interest friends."
In a time of national health and economic emergency, the Secretary of the Interior should be reaching out to help all Native American tribes.— Congressman Bill Keating (@USRepKeating) March 28, 2020
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Among the projects put into limbo with the order, as the Cape Cod Times reported Saturday, are "the tribe's plans to build a $1 billion casino in Taunton, which was part of a yearslong litigation that led to the questioning of whether the tribe qualified for land-in-trust status."
"The planned gaming operation," as HuffPost noted Sunday, "would have competed for business with nearby Rhode Island casinos with strong ties to Trump, who once owned, then bankrupted, casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey."
As David Dayen outlined at The American Prospect last year, Trump intervened to shore up opposition to Keating's reservation reaffirmation bill because of the tribe's plans for the casino on the land.
[Trump] was asked to do so by Matthew Schlapp, the chair of the American Conservative Union, the folks who put on CPAC. Schlapp is the husband of White House strategic communications director Mercedes Schlapp and a longtime Trump ally. He’s also a lobbyist—hey, we all have to make a living—and among his clients is Twin River Management Group, a company that manages two casinos just over the Massachusetts state line in Rhode Island. The casinos are about 26 miles from Taunton, and Twin River obviously sees the prospect of a Mashpee-run casino as a threat to their market share.
Author and Intercept co-founder Jeremy Scahill suggested the disestablishment move would have cronies of the president "waiting in the wings to cash in."
Also, when you scratch the surface of this story just a little bit, you’ll find Trump-connected businesspeople, lobbyists and supporters of Trump waiting in the wings to cash in.— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) March 28, 2020
Cromwell said whatever the motivation for the order may be, he remains undeterred in his fight for his tribe to continue having the special legal status afforded by having the land "held in trust."
"We the People of the First Light have lived here since before there was a Secretary of the Interior, since before there was a State of Massachusetts, since before the Pilgrims arrived 400 years ago. We have survived, we will continue to survive. These are our lands, these are the lands of our ancestors, and these will be the lands of our grandchildren," he said.
"This administration has come and it will go. But we will be here, always," Cromwell continued. "And we will not rest until we are treated equally with other federally recognized tribes and the status of our reservation is confirmed."