Fri-5/10: Stand Indivisible with the Mashpee Wampanoag. Support their reservation reaffirmation legislation.

(Update on our action from 11/26/18. Thought this would be an easy one…) 

Action  – Call your legislators to support H.R. 312 /H.R. 375 – the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act.

Short course: “This tribe held the first Thanksgiving,” – Rep. William Keating (D-MA)

 “I am asking people of good will and all those concerned with justice for the indigenous people of this land — the first Americans — to stand with us in calling on Congress to protect our reservation and ensure we are don’t become the first Tribe since the dark days of the Termination Era to lose its land.” – Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell.

  • H.R. 312, would reaffirm the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe reservation as trust land in Massachusetts and would the tribe to build a new casino on their land. Failed former casino owner and improbable president Trump publicly slammed it with a tweet due to its support from Sen. Warren. Simple majority vote will come up on Wednesday.
  • H.R. 375, would reaffirm the authority of the Interior secretary to take land into trust for Indian Tribes, land on which the tribes could then operate casinos.

Heather Sibbison, legal counsel for the tribe said a tribe’s right to hold land has “profound historical and cultural meaning. But for almost everyone else on the other side who is working to disestablish the tribe’s reservation, this is just a big, huge fight over casino market share. If it loses its reservation, it loses its school, its ability to provide basic social services; it loses its fundamental right to have land on which it can engage in true self government.

Minimal script: I’m calling from [zip code] to ask Rep. / Sen. [___] to vote YES on {Rep. = H.R. 312 and H.R. 375 The Mashpee Reservation Reaffirmation Act and to reaffirm the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for Indian Tribes.

  • H.R. 312 Rep-check here (Neither Brownley nor Carbajal are cosponsors. Call!)
  • H.R. 375 Rep-check here. (Neither Brownley nor Carbajal are cosponsors. Call!)

Contact your Legislators

Rep. Julia Brownley: (CA-26): DC (202) 225-5811, Oxnard (805) 379-1779, T.O. (805) 379-1779
or Rep. Salud Carbajal: (CA-24): DC (202) 225-3601, SB (805) 730-1710 SLO (805) 546-8348
Other Rep./Senator Contacts: www.phoneyourrep.com

Background

Incomplete history of Native Americans and land rights: There are numerous books and a very long history on Wikipedia on how Native Americans and their land rights have been treated by the “guests” they had over for Thanksgiving so long ago.

Before the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934, many tribes lost their lands, traditions and culture in the government’s efforts to assimilate them into American society. Reservations were split up into private properties, and many parcels were lost when tribal members couldn’t pay local land taxes. In 1934, John Collier, FDR’s head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, tried to provide a pathway for American Indians to re-establish sovereignty and self-government, to reduce the losses of reservation lands, and to build economic self-sufficiency. The Act allows the US government to acquire non-Indian land (by voluntary transfer) and convert it to Indian land (“take it into trust”). In so doing, the US government partially removes the land from the jurisdiction of the state, which makes certain activities, such as casino gambling, possible on the land for the first time. It also makes the land exempt from state property taxes and some other state taxes. Then in the mid-1940’s – 1960’s, assimilationists swung back into legislative power and 61 tribes were “legally” dismantled. 46 have since regained their legal status, but the whole process of determining who counts as a tribe and when they were acknowledged is equally cruel, capricious and chaotic.

Who are the Mashpee Wampanoag?: The historic Algonquian-speaking Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has inhabited present day Massachusetts and Eastern Rhode Island for more than 12,000 years. They were the native people encountered by the English colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the seventeenth century, when they controlled considerable coastal area. In 1660, colonists started their local variant of dispossessing the tribe of their lands and forcing them to less desirable areas, as well as selling them into slavery. By 1870, attrition from new diseases, unenforced land rights, taxes and government assimilation policies resulted in the loss of almost all the tribe’s remaining land and self-government. Their descendants continued to live in the area, many working in the whaling industry, and intermarrying with their neighbors.

How is this historically reasonable? After an arduous process started in the 1970’s to prove the continuity of their culture, the Mashpee Wampanoag were re-acknowledged as a federally recognized tribe in 2007In 2015, the tribe received 150 acres of land in Mashpee and 170 acres of land in Taunton as the Tribe’s initial reservation in spite of a controversial Supreme Court ruling that land could only be taken into trust on behalf of tribes that had “federal recognition” in 1934, when the  Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) was passed. Continuing the misusage of the phrase “now under Federal jurisdiction” within this complicated and much-amended piece of legislation, a federal judge decided that the Obama administration acted outside it’s authority by taking the land into trust and the Trump administration decided not to challenge the decision.

Now what? This decision puts the tribe’s sovereignty and land into limbo. In the intervening years, the tribe had to go ahead with their lives, setting up schools, housing projects and its own police and court system to be funded by a controversial casino. This put them in the direct path of neighbors and wealthy non-native casino developers. The remedy for the tribe is for Congress to pass legislation to codify the tribe’s existence and land trust into the US code. The Mashpee tribe currently has approximately 2,600 enrolled citizens, who apparently are not very convincing to our incredibly racist president.

“They do not look like Indians…”: In 1993, Trump sat before the US House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, to complain that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act gave Native Americans an unfair advantage over his own gaming enterprises. Along with completely unfounded statements that organized crime syndicates controlled Indian reservations, he added the racist twist that was to become a hallmark of his relationship with a microphone. (See video below) A lawer representing the tribe Trump was suing stated, “This guy is unbelievable. His father hands him a multimillion-dollar empire. The Native American Indians are lucky if they can give their children food, clothing and a roof over their head.”

He knows “Fake News”exists because he made it: In 2000, he responded to New York’s proposal to expand Native American casinos by secretly funding a $1 million ad campaign that expanded on his previous accusations against indigenous people, depicting the Mohawk Indian tribe of being cocaine traffickers and career criminals whose casinos would bring crime into their communities. The ads’ putative sponsor, a fictional “grass-roots, pro-family” group called the “Institute for Law and Safety”, was created by Roger Stone, (Yes, that Roger Stone) who even hired a fake leader for the equally-fictional 12,000 members. This was all discovered by the state’s lobbying commission and they imposed the largest-ever civil penalty – $250,000, on Trump and his associates and required a public apology in Albany-area news outlets. “Donald Trump, Roger Stone and Thomas Hunter … apologize if anyone was misled concerning the production and funding of the lobbying effort.” but they refused to apologize for the malicious content of the ads.

A perfect storm: In 2016, Neil Bluhm, another wealthy white developer, wanted to open a casino in a part of Massachusetts set aside for tribal gaming. He sued the Department of the Interior, demanding the agency revoke the reservation’s trust status. In September, the Trump-controlled DOI complied, informing the Mashpee-Wampanoag Tribe, the people who helped the pilgrims survive and who were present at the 1st Thanksgiving, that they no longer fit the definition of “Indian” and would be losing their reservation status. This is the first time that land held under special status for tribes has been taken out of trust since Harry Truman’s presidency. Using the DOI’s new legal argunements, 128 of the 573 federally recognized tribes in the United States could lose their reservations as well.

Erasing Obama: Under the Obama administration, over 500,000 acres of land were taken into trust. Under Trump, the slow restoration of tribal lands stolen from them by the Allotment Act of 1887 has come to a dead stop. For the Mashpee, losing their reservation status would, according to the National Congress of American Indians, “severely restrict their sovereignty and ability to exercise meaningful self-governance. In addition, the Tribe’s reservation is now threatened with disestablishment. The Tribe is effectively strippped of important ‘reliance interests’ that will affect the social service programs it provides to its citizens, as well as the economic development ventures (including gaming) that the Tribe relies on to support critical tribal government functions and provide job opportunities to its people.”

A message to us from the Mashpee Wampanoag Council Chairman Cedrick Cromwell:

“H.R. 312 is not about Senator Elizabeth Warren. H.R. 312 also is not about the developer that has been kind enough to lend the Tribe money to help us survive the inhumane and disgraceful burden that Rhode Island’s Carcieri case has inflicted on landless recognized tribes like ours.

H.R. 312 is a deeply honorable legislative effort by both Republican and Democratic members of the House of Representatives to correct 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.

We are deeply humbled by and grateful for their efforts, particularly in the face of the constant onslaught of misinformation about our Tribe and this bill.

The Mashpee Wampanoag have been working toward the return of our sovereign lands for nearly a half century, and long before enactment of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

H.R. 312 is about what is right, and about what is just.

I urge our fellow Americans to continue to support the bi-partisan House effort to enact the ‘Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act’ H.R. 312.”

Reading:

  • Learn more about the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe here.
  • This Thanksgiving, The Trump Administration Is Taking Land From The Tribe That Welcomed The Pilgrims (Huffpo)
  • Donald Trump and Federal Indian Policy: ‘They Don’t Look Like Indians to Me’ (IndianCountryToday)
  • The complicated story behind Trump’s casino tweet (splinternews)
  • Trump’s tweet about an obscure “casino bill’ raises some swampy questions (wapo)

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