Massachusetts Tribe Pursuing Political Fix
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March 25, 2009
MIDDLEBORO - The Mashpee Wampanoag's plan to build a $1-billion casino resort
hit an major obstacle when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in February that the
federal government cannot take land into trust for tribes not recognized in
1934. The land trust blocks state and local governments from imposing most laws
and taxes on the land and in most cases allows the tribe to operate gambling
Mashpee Wampanoag tribal leaders expressed their frustration along with many
tribal leaders across the US after the court's decision was announced.
"This decision is yet another assault on native sovereignty," the tribe said in
released statement. "It is 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."
Mashpee Wampanoag officials have been consulting with other tribal leaders
across the US and have decided to push ahead with their land-in-trust
application, which is under review by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The tribe's new legal argument contends it has long been recognized by the state
and was under the jurisdiction of the federal government in the 1800s. That
approach could work, but there are uncertainties according to Clyde Barrow, a
professor and gambling industry expert at the University of Massachusetts
"Being under federal jurisdiction and being federally recognized are not the
same thing," Barrow said. "They are clearly trying to look for a loophole."
If this legal argument fails, the political strategy is to support federal
legislation to revise the Supreme Court ruling. Legislation has the support of
Ken Salazar, the Obama Administration's new Interior Department chief, who has
said he is troubled by the Supreme Court decision.
"This is on Congress' radar screen. We should expect a legislative fix for the
case," said Kathryn Rand, co-director of the Institute for the Study of Tribal
Gaming Law and Policy at the University of North Dakota.
Rand sees Congressional support for a sweeping revision with a few exceptions
such as blocking cases of so-called reservation shopping.
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