Mashpee Wampanoag tribe no longer trusts feds
It was a minor story, tucked inside the Boston Globe’s metro section and hard to find on the newspaper’s website. Yet the report nevertheless was revealing.
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is asking a federal judge to let it intervene in a case dealing with the federal government’s ability to take land in Taunton into trust for the tribe for a $1 billion casino. US District Court Judge William Young ruled in late July that the Interior Department’s somewhat novel approach to taking land into trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag ran afoul of the law, and now the question is whether the federal government will appeal.
In a 22-page filing, the tribe essentially said it was compelled to join the litigation at the appeal stage because it doesn’t trust the Interior Department’s to look out for its interests. “The department’s interest is in the administration of federal lands of the United States for the public interest broadly and the implementation of federal Indian policy, not in the particular sovereign, economic, and personal interest of the tribe,” the filing said.
That’s quite an about-face for the tribe. For close to a year, Mashpee Wampanoag officials have been confidently telling everyone that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs was on firm legal ground with its decision allowing the Mashpee Wampanoag to take land in Taunton into trust. Tribal officials also said any challenge to the ruling would be unsuccessful because the Justice Department attorneys representing the federal government know what they are doing.
It was largely based on these sorts of statements that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted 4-1 in late April to reject a private casino operator’s proposal for Brockton and cede the market in southeastern Massachusetts to the tribe.
Increasingly, that’s looking like a bad decision. Young, the judge who ruled against the Interior Department, said his decision wasn’t a close call. With its filing to join the case, the tribe seems to be worried that the Interior Department may not even appeal the judge’s ruling.
Michelle Littlefield, the lead plaintiff among the Taunton homeowners, told the Cape Cod Times it appears the Interior Department intends to let the matter drop. Adam Bond, the attorney representing the Taunton homeowners, was a bit more circumspect. “I don’t know what’s going on in the background between the tribe and the government lawyers, but it appears not all is well,” he said.
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