April 08, 2020

#StandWithMashpee: a Right to a Homeland

Chase Iron Eyes, Esq.

Another day, another Indian land grab by the federal government.

In case you missed it, at the end of last month, the Department of Interior announced that 321 acres of land will be taken out of trust, effectively revoking the reservation status of the Mashpee Wampanoag people of Massachusetts. For those who learned the Thanksgiving story in elementary school, the Wampanoag people broke bread with the Pilgrims in Plymouth colony, and it was Wampanoag land that the Pilgrims took. And now, in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic, President Trump’s cabinet is moving to rescind the sovereign status of these people.

The Lakota People’s Law Project stands with the Mashpee Wampanoag in the struggle to defend their birthright to live on the land of their ancestors, and we ask that you take a few moments to watch my latest video and #StandWithMashpee too.

President Obama placed the land in question into trust in 2015, but that decision has been reversed under Trump. A reinterpretation of a 2009 Supreme Court decision now only grants trust status to tribes recognized before 1934, when the Indian Reorganization Act was signed. Because the Mashpee weren’t federally recognized until 2007, they’ve now lost their status.

As Jessie Little Doe Baird, vice chair of the tribe, said in 2018 “they came for our children and took them to Carlisle because we were 'too Indian.' Today, they tell us we are not Indian enough."

For the other 127 tribes recognized after 1934, this legal maneuver could set a dangerous precedent for the revocation of more Indian land.

The Mashpee, also known as the People of the First Light, who have lived in the Massachusetts area for over 12,000 years, are being denied their right to autonomy. With federal trust status comes the right to manage, develop, and tax a parcel of land. This “disestablishment” of the Mashpee reservation will likely force the closure of the tribal court and police department; it will cost Native people their livelihoods in an already barren economic landscape.

This blatant land-grab isn’t even court-ordered — the directive came from Trump’s Department of the Interior. Now, the Mashpee have asked a D.C. court to issue an emergency restraining order to prevent the dissolution of trust status, and Massachusetts senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey have vowed to combat this assault on the tribe’s self-determination, saying “We will not allow the Mashpee Wampanoag to lose their homeland.”

Native people have struggled to retain less than 2.5 percent of our lands since European contact [1]. The Indian Wars, in essence, have never truly ended. The United States’ long history of systemically suppressing Native rights continues, and in 2020, land trust removal is the latest iteration of that same legacy of colonialism. We are disheartened, but as Indigenous people and allies, we have each others’ backs in the face of adversity. You can stand for sovereignty by standing with the Mashpee people in their time of need.

Signal your support on social media using #StandWithMashpee and take action on the Tribe’s website.

"Our land is sacred. It’s where our people receive health services. It’s where our children attend our language immersion school. It’s where we are building houses for our citizens. Taking our land is a direct attack on our culture and our way of living.”

– Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell

[1] US land area: 2.43 billion acres. Total reservation land area: 56,200,000 acres = 2.3%