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Leaf Home arrow The News arrow North East News arrow Mashpee Wampanoag leaders praise newly issued federal land opinion
Mashpee Wampanoag leaders praise newly issued federal land opinion
Written by Administrator   
Friday, 28 March 2014
Mashpee Wampanoag leaders praise newly issued federal land opinion
Charles Winokoor
Mar. 18, 2014


TAUNTON — The chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is lauding a legal opinion issued last week from the U.S. Dept. of Interior interpreting the statutory phrase “under federal jurisdiction.”

The legal opinion potentially boosts the Mashpee's claim that they qualify for the federal land designation they need to build a tribal casino.

“We fully support the legal opinion issued by the Interior Department to guide the land acquisition process for Indian tribes,” Cromwell, in a prepared statement, said in response.

The Mashpee tribe needs DOI approval for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to officially place land, both in Mashpee and Taunton, “into trust” as an Indian reservation — before the tribe can embark on plans for a $500 million resort-casino in and around East Taunton’s Liberty & Union Industrial Park.

The opinion by the DOI’s Office of the Solicitor was in response to a 2009 Supreme Court ruling restricting “Secretarial authority” to take land into trust, as part of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934. The 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar decision found that Rhode Island’s Narragansett Tribe — which bought land in 1991 for elderly housing of its members — was ineligible to do so, because it was not under federal jurisdiction in 1934 when the IRA became law.

Last week’s opinion also states that a tribe need not have simultaneously been under federal jurisdiction and federally recognized as a tribe in 1934, in order to be eligible for having land placed into trust.

The Mashpee Wampanoag weren't recognized as an Indian tribe by the federal government until 2007.

Cromwell, in his statement, also notes that his tribe is undergoing a “fact and tribe-specific” inquiry, as part of the process of seeking land-into-trust approval.

The compact, or agreement, between Massachusetts and the Mashpee Wampanoag guarantees the state 17 percent of gambling revenue if no other casino opens in what the Gaming Commission designates as Region C.

The tribe would keep all profits if a commercial casino were to open in the same Region C, which includes Plymouth and Bristol Counties, the Cape and Islands.

State law gave the tribe a window of exclusivity in Region C, but the state Gaming Commission, concerned the tribe's land-into-trust application may falter, decided last year to seek commercial casino applications in the region. The commission will re-examine the tribe's progress before deciding whether to award a commercial license.

A federal judge in January ruled that state casino law, as it applies to Mashpee Wampanoag’s exclusivity, is constitutional. The suit was brought by KG Urban Enterprises, which has expressed interest in building a casino in New Bedford.

Foxwoods Resort Casino of Connecticut, meanwhile, recently announced plans for developing a $750 million resort casino in Fall River.

Arlinda Locklear, the attorney for the Mashpee Wampanoag, declined to comment on last week’s legal opinion and how it might affect the tribe’s chances of land being put into trust.

The tribe’s press release states that a Final Environmental Impact Statement won’t be released until the spring, which in turn will be followed by “a public comment and final record of decision.”

Middleboro lawyer and former selectman Adam Bond, who previously has represented has been hired to represent anti-casino abutters in East Taunton, said Cromwell’s press release is further evidence of his “talent as a spinmeister.”

Bond, who resigned as a selectman in 2009, and previously represented the town’s interests when it tried negotiating a deal with the Mashpee Wampanoag to open a casino in Middleboro, said the tribe doesn’t stand a chance of proving its case for land into trust.

Bond said letters he sent to the BIA and Gov. Deval Patrick, which were written around 1934, proves that the federal government back then rejected any ties to the Mashpee Wampanoag.

“The federal government expressly rejected pleas from the Mashpee Wampanoag to exert jurisdiction over them,” Bond said, adding that any Wampanoag land would have been under state, not federal, jurisdiction.

Bond said the BIA is trying, in effect, to undo the Carcieri ruling. He also accused Cromwell of issuing statements he calls “lollipops and poodles” while tribal members are experiencing what he says are serious, economic hardships.

Bond said he’s prepared, if he is called upon, to argued the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said he expects it will take between five to 10 years before a Taunton casino would open if it did eventually win a court case, while Cromwell has said a casino could open as soon as 2015.

http://www.heraldnews.com/article/20140318/NEWS/140316116/?tag=2
 
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