MASHPEE — An unprecedented decision by the U.S. secretary of the Interior to rescind the Mashpee Wampanoag’s land-into-trust comes as a “hardcore blow” to the tribe, according to Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell.
Cromwell learned the news during a call Friday afternoon with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
He thought the bureau was calling to see if there was anything the tribe needed during the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, he was told that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has ordered that the tribe’s land be taken out of trust and the reservation be disestablished.
“It was absurd,” Cromwell said in a phone interview Saturday. “It’s like a punch in the nose from a bully.”
Cromwell said he tried to ask questions about what this new order means and when it will take effect, but he received no answers.
“It’s somewhat of a dictatorship,” he said.
“It feels like we’ve been dropped off into a new world we’ve never seen before, i.e., in this pandemic and the way my tribe is being treated,” Cromwell said. “With this happening now, this is a direct, hardcore blow to dissolving and disestablishing my tribe.”
Because of the pandemic, many tribal operations were put on hold, such as the construction of 42 affordable housing units in Mashpee and the operation of a school dedicated to reestablishing its tribal language.
Also in limbo 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”
“. . . . Keating said the bill is bipartisan, with Republican leaders co-sponsoring it, and should have moved through quickly.
When the bill was put forth in the House in May, President Donald Trump tweeted his opposition.
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Committee, is a lobbyist for the Rhode Island casinos, such as the Twin River Casino in Lincoln, Keating said. His wife, Mercedes Schlapp, is a senior White House communications aide.
“I think that’s what’s slowing it in the Senate,” Keating said.
He said there is no logic in the Interior Department’s decision. During a time of national health and economic emergency, the secretary of the Interior should be reaching out to help all Native American tribes, Keating said in a statement.
Keating said Bernhardt should be ashamed.”