MASHPEE, Mass. — The Mashpee Wampanoags who are fighting for the right to build. The tribe was granted federally protected lands in Taunton and in Mashpee but now that’s being disputed.
The debate over sovereignty went before a panel of justices on Wednesday and John Peters was there in federal court as the tribe made their case.
John Peters can trace his lineage back before the Mashpee Wampanoags became the tribe of first contact with the pilgrims.
He was there when the tribe was officially recognized by the federal government in 2007 and also when the tribe was granted 321 acres of land in trust in 2015 by then-President Barack Obama.
“We’ve always [been] a step or two behind. Not having opportunities, redlined, and all those type of things. For someone else developing our own land,” Peters said.
A federal court of appeals heard arguments from a group of residents who say the Department of the Interior didn't have the right to grant the lands to the tribe. They say the Mashpee Wampanoags weren't officially recognized when the Federal Indian Reorganization Act, which created the land in trust process, became law.
“They’re survivors of first contact, they’re survivors of King Philip's War, they’re survivors of this federal system and the United States owes them a responsibility to continue to hold their land in trust. Any other than that would be completely unjust,” said Tela Troge.
The 2015 Department of the Interior decision paved the way for the construction of a nearly $1 billion casino on trust land in Taunton. Just two years later the Trump administration reversed the decision to grant lands.
The tribe's challenging that in federal court while construction is at a standstill.
“We’re trying to develop, we’re trying to build, we’re trying to remain on our homelands,” said Cedric Cromwell, Chairmen of the Mashpee Wampanoag. “As a sovereign nation there’s an economy involved with that. And we’re really reeling because as it moves forward, there are steps backward.”
An effort to use an act of congress to restore tribal lands passed the house but stalled in the senate. The court of appeals is expected to make a decision at a later date.
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