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US Secretary of Interior orders removal of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s land from federal trust
© WikiMedia (Yuri Long)
US Secretary of Interior orders removal of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s land from federal trust

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s chairman said Friday that the US Secretary of the Interior has issued an order disestablishing the Mashpee Wampanoag reservation and taking its land out of federal trust.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s land was taken into trust by the US Department of the Interior in September 2015. However, relying on the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar, Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt ordered that the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s land be removed from federal trust on Friday.

In 2009, The US Supreme Court ruled in Carcieri v. Salazar that the federal government lacked authority to acquire land and hold it in trust for tribes that were not recognized as “Indian tribes under federal jurisdiction” when the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) was enacted.

The IRA, which was enacted in 1934, authorized the US Secretary of the Interior to buy land and hold it in trust for purposes of providing land for Indians. It was enacted in order to remove Indian tribes from under the thumb of the federal government and to give the tribes the power to govern themselves.

Bernhardt’s decision to remove the tribe’s land from trust because it was established after 1934 was met with a lot of criticism. Notably, the Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman’s statement that the Secretary of Interior’s actions were “cruel and unnecessary” and Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey’s joint statement that the tribe has “a right to their ancestral homeland no matter what craven political games the Trump administration tries to play.”

This decision by the Secretary of Interior could also have been influenced by the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit’s ruling in a suit by residents of the Mashpee area against the tribe, that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe did not meet the definition of an Indian tribe under the IRA and that the Department of Interior lacked the authority to hold the tribe’s land in trust when it it did so in 2015. An appeal from the circuit court’s decision is still pending.