Important update: Department of Justice and Mashpee Wampanoag file “Notices to Appeal”


Dear Tribal Family,

I want to provide an important update to our Tribal community. Today, Thursday December 8th,  the U.S. Department of Justice and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe filed notices to appeal a federal district court ruling that challenged the federal government’s authority to designate tribal land in Mashpee and Taunton as a reservation.

The notices to appeal were filed with the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, which will trigger the case to now be moved to the higher court.

As we recall, on July 28, 2016, a federal district court judge ruled that the U.S. Department of Interior did not have the authority to take land into trust on behalf of our tribe on the basis of what is known as “category 2” under the Indian Reorganization Act. That decision is the subject of the appeal.

This is a continuation of our fight to remain on the land that our ancestors walked upon and lived on for thousands of years.

The initial ROD issued on September 18, 2015 re-established our reservation. The ROD was based on what is known as “category 2” – living continuously on an existing reservation – under the IRA. While a federal judge ruled that the Interior Department did not have the authority to hold land in trust on our behalf under category 2, it could consider revising the ROD and basing it on category 1.

As the appeal moves forward, federal officials will also now consider whether we, as the tribe, are eligible to have our land held in trust under category 1, which would establish that the Tribe was “under federal jurisdiction” at the time of the 1934 law.

Meanwhile, on a parallel track, I received a letter this week from the Bureau of Indian Affairs — which is a division of the Interior Department — saying it was prepared to consider a revision of the initial Record-Of-Decision (ROD) based on the fact that the tribe was “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934 when the IRA became law. The Interior Department’s authority to take land into trust on behalf of federally recognized tribes can only be done under one of three categories written into the IRA.

The letter received from the BIA, lays out the timeline on how the agency will proceed with possibly revising its initial ROD so we can maintain our reservation land made up of approximately 170 acres of land in Mashpee and 151 acres of land in Taunton.

The letter goes on to state the administrative process for considering a revision of the initial ROD, setting a January 7, 2017 deadline for the submission of any additional evidence from the Tribe that shows we qualify as being “under federal jurisdiction” as defined by the 1934 law.

I am confident that our Tribal homeland will be preserved by the federal government.

The evidence that our Tribe was under federal jurisdiction in 1934 is compelling. I have no doubt that once all the evidence is reviewed, the Interior Department will issue a revised Record-Of-Decision. We intend to succeed at both.