We the People of the First Light have lived here since before there was a Secretary of the Interior, since before there was a State of Massachusetts, since before the Pilgrims arrived 400 years ago. We have survived, we will continue to survive. These are our lands, these are the lands of our ancestors, and these will be the lands of our grandchildren. This Administration has come and it will go. But we will be here, always. And we will not rest until we are treated equally with other federally recognized tribes and the status of our reservation is confirmed — Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell
Last November, our Thanksgiving post called everyone’s attention to a potential crisis at Mashpee with respect to their reservation and sovereignty. As we noted then, several judicial decisions (including one at the United States Supreme Court in 2009) and potential action by the Department of the Interior threatened the community’s reservation trust lands and tribal sovereignty. Land in trust is a special status in which the federal government holds the title to the property and allows the tribe to make its own decisions on how to develop the tax-exempt property and its natural resources.
This past Friday, on March 27th, Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt ordered that the Mashpee’s 321-acre reservation be taken out of trust and disestablished to no longer be considered sovereign land.
While it does not affect the tribe’s federal recognition, the directive weakens the tribe’s capacity to provide vital educational, housing, and emergency services to the community, and protect its traditional lands and cultural resources. It also jeopardized funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
H.R. 375, a bipartisan bill to reaffirm the Mashpee reservation and restore fair-mindedness to all tribal nations in the land-into-trust process, passed in the House of Representatives last year with strong bipartisan support. Its companion bill (S. 2808) remains stalled from Senate inaction.
On March 30th, the Mashpee requested the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to issue an emergency restraining order to prevent the Department of the Interior from taking the reservation out of trust. The Court indicated it will order the federal government refrain from disestablishing the tribe’s reservation until it rules on the motion for a preliminary injunction.
The Mashpee have a long connection to their land and a history of petitioning for redress when their rights or sovereignty were under attack.
You can explore a selection of the Mashpee community’s rich documentary history and read about several centuries of Mashpee people, places, and events by clicking here.
The LandisSacred image is courtesy of the Mashpee Wampanoag website. The 18th-Century map of Mashpee is from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s Ezra Stiles Collection.