March 10, 2009
WASHINGTON, DC - The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Secretary of the Interior Department does not have the authority to take land into federal trust for tribe recognized after 1934.
This is a huge setback to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe which was federally recognized in 2007. The transfer of tribal land into federal trust is a prerequisite to building a casino. It makes the land sovereign and exempt from state laws and taxation.
The court ruling is based on the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934 that authorizes the Secretary of Interior to take land into federal trust for members of tribes that are "now under Federal jurisdiction."
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has submitted an application to the federal government requesting 539 acres in Middleborough be placed into a federal trust. If approved, the tribe would be able to build a proposed $1 billion casino resort.
Dennis Whittlesey, a Washington lawyer who helped negotiate the tribe's agreement with Middleborough, said "If this decision is not overturned by the Congress, the Mashpee project cannot go forward. There cannot be a casino there."
"It's absurd on its face that the policy of the United States government would be to recognize the sovereignty of native tribes but not allow those sovereign nations to take land into trust," said Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee tribe. "We look to Congress to correct what the court could not." Cromwell is sending letters to US Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, as well as US Representative William Delahunt, asking them to file legislation to change the law.
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