The Bureau of Indian Affairs on Friday told the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe that its reservation would be removed from trust status and "disestablished" by the federal government, an action that effectively strips the tribe of control over its land holdings.

"Today's action was cruel and it was unnecessary," tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell said in a statement. "The Secretary is under no court order to take our land out of trust. He is fully aware that litigation to uphold our status as a tribe eligible for the benefits of the Indian Reorganization Act is ongoing. It begs the question, what is driving our federal trustee's crusade against our reservation?"

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt made the announcement Friday afternoon.

U.S. Rep. William Keating, who has pushed legislation to reaffirm the Mashpee Wampanoag reservation as trust land, lashed out following the announcement.

“In a time of national health and economic emergency, the Secretary of the Interior should be reaching out to help all Native American tribes," Keating stated. “This is one of the most cruel and nonsensical acts I have seen since coming to Congress. The Secretary should be ashamed."

Keating once again called for bipartisan action to pass H.R. 312. In 2019, the House approved the matter 275 to 146 after Trump tweeted his opposition to the bill, which would lock down tribal sovereignty over the Massachusetts land. The bill is currently awaiting Senate action.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which regained federal recognition in 2007, is excluded from the protections of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act due to a 2009 court ruling known as Carcieri v. Salazar.  In 2015, Interior granted the tribe sovereignty over 150 acres in Mashpee and 170 in Taunton under a different interpretation of the law. In 2018, the DOI under President Donald Trump reversed the Obama-era position. With the matter tied up in litigation, the tribe has managed to retain control of its 320 acres.

Friday's announcement effectively halts long-stalled plans by the Mashpee Wampanoag to build a tribal casino in Taunton. The 2016 proposal has not advanced amidst ongoing debate over the tribe's status. In February, the tribe suffered a blow when an appeals court in Boston agreed that the federal government was never authorized in 2015 to take land into trust on behalf of the 2,600-member tribe.

The "Tribe of the First Light" traces its provenance in the region back 12,000 years and "have lived here since before there was a Secretary of the Interior, since before there was a State of Massachusetts, since before the Pilgrims arrived 400 years ago," Cromwell stated. "We have survived, we will continue to survive."

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