Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., USA - U.S. President Donald Trump likes to get his way at all times, but that doesn’t always happen. On Wednesday, May 22nd, the House approved by a vote of 276-146, a bill reaffirming the rights of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts to hold land in trust. This is a crucial step towards the tribe being able to build a $1 billion casino.
The tribe had already started clearing out the land sometime last year. However, residents of Taunton, Massachusetts, a town over 50 miles from the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal center on Cape Cod, filed suit in federal court in opposition to the tribe’s project. The Interior Department addressed the issue by saying that the Mashpee tribe isn’t qualified to hold the land in trust because the tribe wasn’t under federal jurisdiction in 1934 when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed. The court upheld that ruling, thereby favoring the Taunton residents.
The Mashpee tribe found an ally in Massachusetts Representative Bill Keating, who sponsored the bill allowing them to hold 321 acres of reservation land in trust. Keating said the measure was necessary to ensure the tribe’s survival. “This is the tribe of the first Thanksgiving, the very tribe that is integral to our founding story…,” Keating said. “To deny them the right to their land is an absolute disgrace.”
Keating went on to say that denying the Mashpee tribe this piece of land would relegate them to being a second-class tribe without self-governing abilities and unable to provide basic services like housing and education. He also contended that President Trump’s opposition to the bill was expected, considering his “well-documented alliance” with a lobbyist for a couple of Rhode Island casinos that would be in direct competition with the Mashpee Wampanoag casino.
The Mashpee tribe is now one step closer towards being legally able to complete their casino project, but they still have quite a way to go. The bill will now be up for discussion in the Senate. If it gets approved and Trump somehow decides not to veto it, not only will the tribe finally be able to build their casino, but they will also be able to repay Genting Malaysia. Genting has reported an impairment loss of about $440 million in 2018, owing to its investment in promissory notes from the Mashpee tribe for the yet-to-be-built casino resort.
Trump and his supporters have linked the legislation to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is not only a Democratic presidential candidate, but also a frequent Trump foil. Warren has previously co-sponsored a Senate version of the bill, but has not made any commitment on the current tribal bill efforts. Her Senate and campaign offices have also declined to comment on recent developments concerning the bill.
Taunton resident Michelle Littlefield expressed her concern, saying: “We’re a quiet, sleepy little neighborhood. We came here to raise our kids. And now we have this massive resort that’s going to change our landscape forever.”
For his part, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell says this bill was “a deeply honorable legislative effort” that they see as a way of correcting “the significant wrongs that have been perpetrated against our tribe over the years, and to ensure that our people have a chance to be self-sufficient.”