Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Hopes Legal Opinion Leads to Taunton Casino
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts says that a legal opinion offered by the U.S. Interior Department could help their chances of building a casino. The tribe hopes to build a resort casino in Taunton, Massachusetts in the next few years.
According to a recent legal opinion by Hilary Tompkins, Solicitor for the U.S. Department of the Interior, tribes do not have to have been recognized by the federal government before 1934 to have their land taken into trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Such a ruling would appear to open the way for the Mashpee Wampanoag to build a casino under the tribal gaming compact.
Clarifying Interpretation of a U.S. Supreme Court Ruling
The opinion by Tompkins is an attempt to clarify the Interior Department’s position on a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In that ruling, the Supreme Court stated that the federal government was barred from taking land into trust when the tribes owning that land were not under federal jurisdiction in 1934. That was the year in which the U.S. Congress passed a law specifying the rights of self-government for Native American tribes.
The 2009 ruling came in a case known as Carcieri v. Salazar. In Carcieri v. Salazar, the state of Rhode Island was in a land dispute with the Narragansett Indian tribe.
Taunton Casino Case
In Mashpee Wampanoag are a landless tribe, which makes their attempts to build a casino establishment particularly troublesome. The Mashpee only received federal recognition in 2007, which raises questions of whether the tribe is eligible for land in trust.
The Mashpee’s case hinges on the meaning of the phrase “under federal jurisdiction”. As Tompkins wrote in her opinion, the high court wrote the phrase “federal jurisdiction” to have a vague meaning, so the term could apply to other interactions the federal government has had with the tribe. An example of such an interaction would be a treaty signed by the tribe and the government.
Cedric Cromwell Releases a Statement
The chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council, Cedric Cromwell, says the Interior Department’s legal opinion backs his tribe’s interpretation of that 2009 ruling.
Cromwell said in a public statement, “We believe that this legal opinion will go a long way toward helping our tribe and so many other tribes get land placed into trust.”
That is not the only requirement to have land designation in trusteeship. Tribes must prove they have ancestral ties to a parcel of land. Cromwell says the Mashpee Tribe can prove their ancestral ties to Taunton.
2011 Massachusetts Casino Law
According to a 2011 state casino law, Massachusetts is permitted up to 3 regional resort casinos. The southeastern region of the state was given preference for a federally-recognized tribe. If the Mashpee cannot show progress in securing federal approval, the Massachusetts Gambling Commission has signalled it might look into the possibility of having a commercial casino developer operate a license. At the same time, the commission did approve a January casino compact between the Mashpee Tribe and Governor Deval Patrick.
Implications to Nationwide Gaming Compacts
If the Interior Department and Mashpee Wampanoag’s interpretation of the Carcieri v. Salazar ruling is accepted, it could set a precedent which allows dozens of other landless tribes to have land placed in trust. Thus, the Mashpee case could have wide-ranging implications.
It’s still uncertain whether the legal opinion will carry weight at the national level, but the clarification must increase the chances the Mashpee Indians and other landless tribes find help from the Interior Department.
Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribal Council Inc.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council was established in 1972 by Russell “Fast Turtle” Peters. Two years later, the tribe petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for official recognition. In 1976, the council sued the Town of Mashpee for the return of the tribe’s ancestral homelands. The tribe consists of 1,400 enrrolled members. These people must meet lineage standards and live within 20 miles of Mashpee.
In recent years, the tribe’s leadership has been troubled with financial scandals. One chairman, Glenn Marshall, was pled guilty to federal charges of embezzling funds, mail fraud, wire fraud, and tax evasion. Marshall’s crimes were tied to the Jack Abramoff scandal. Marshall’s successor, Shawn Hendricks, fell from power when it was learned he maintained ties to Kevin A. Ring, an Abramoff associate who has since been convicted for his financial ties to the Mashpees. Cedric Cromwell came to power as a reform candidate, though he was a councillor during the Abramoff era and had voted to shun tribe members who tried to investigate the scandal at an earlier time. Cromwell’s term has been hampered by protests of tribal elders over casino-related finances.