A recently reported loss from the financiers of the Taunton casino could mean more layoffs and cuts for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe members.

Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council, said that without a land base and revenue stream, and with a lack of action from the federal government, the tribe would have to end its school, cut tribal government positions, and cease other programs.

“Because the federal government so far has failed to take the actions needed to confirm the status of our reservation, our ability to develop a healthy tribal economy and to be self-sufficient have been critically compromised,” Mr. Cromwell said in a statement. “Instead of being able to generate our own revenue to fund government services, the shameful attack on our reservation has forced us to continue to borrow money to fund even the most basic of governmental functions.”

Genting Malaysia Berhad Group, an international casino developer and backer of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s proposed Taunton casino, reported a loss on the project late last week.

The latest quarterly report from the Malaysian-based company reports an over $400 million “impairment loss,” due to the US Department of the Interior’s recent decision that the Mashpees were not under federal jurisdiction at the time of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

While Genting reports a significant loss on the investment, it still has yet to give up on the tribe.

“Genting Malaysia Berhad Group continues to work closely with the Tribe on options which include a legislation being introduced in the US Congress which, if passed, will entail the US Federal Government to reaffirm the land in trust for the benefit of the Tribe,” the quarterly report reads.

The company issued a press release last Friday, November 30, announcing the loss. A representative for Genting could not be reached by press time.

While the Malaysian company continues to work with the tribe, opponents of the tribe’s casino efforts question where that approximately $440 million has gone.

“That’s an extraordinary amount of money,” said Joseph Baerlein, spokesman for Mass Gaming & Entertainment, which has proposed building a casino in Brockton.

Mr. Baerlein said that the Chicago-based group recently built a fully functioning casino for under $800 million, while the tribe has spent over half of that with little to show for it. The spokesman further stated that if the tribe is able to receive protection from Congress and receive land in trust, tribal debt related to the casino will ensure that any profit from the project will benefit not the tribe, but Genting, the Malaysian gaming group.

The recent setbacks stem from a decision by the Interior Department in September, which followed a lawsuit filed by East Taunton residents opposing the tribe’s land-in-trust decision granted by the federal government in 2015. As a result of that litigation, a federal judge found that the tribe needed to prove it was federally recognized, or under federal jurisdiction, at the time of the 1934 act.

Although the tribe submitted hundreds of pages of evidence to support that it was indeed under jurisdiction at the time, the Interior Department ruled in September that it was not, calling into question the tribe’s land base and casino.

The tribe is fighting the ruling in a Washington, DC, district court, as well as looking to Congress to pass the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act, or HR 5244, legislation that would protect the tribe’s land into perpetuity.

Mr. Cromwell reiterated that without help from Congress, the tribe would not have a revenue source and would lose government programming next year.

“This situation is unsustainable, with or without a developer,” Mr. Cromwell said. “The federal government’s inaction has created a dire threat to our ability to meaningfully self-govern. In leaving us in this limbo, the United States turns its back on our people. Unless Congress enacts legislation now to prevent the Department of the Interior from disestablishing our reservation, in 2019 we will have to close programs, shutter our school, lay off our governmental employees, and witness the dissolution of all that we have achieved since our federal recognition was restored in 2007. It is almost impossible to describe the despair that the federal government’s continued inaction has brought to our people.

“The United States Congress still has a chance to save our reservation,” Mr. Cromwell’s statement continued. “We implore the 115th Congress to do the right thing. Whether the Tribe that fed the Pilgrims survives into the future is on their watch. Whether this Congress passes the Mashpee Reservation Reaffirmation Act or not will be part of its legacy, and will either be an honorable or a disgraceful new chapter in this nation’s dealings with the first Americans.”

The US House Committee on Natural Resources, which oversees tribal matters, has yet to announce a hearing on HR 5244.

(1) comment


The removal of trust land will not affect their sovereignty. Recognized tribes are sovereign nations whether or not they have trust land. All sovereign nations receive federal funding to run needs-based programs for their members, as well as funding for governmental operations. Once a tribe’s land is taken into trust, additional funds become available to offset the expenses of managing the land. Losing trust land only means they lose that additional funding.
It’s equally important to note that the dark days of Termination are not upon us, as claimed by Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell. During the Termination Era, the federal government terminated their relationship with tribal nations, ended federal funding for those tribes, took the land away from them and sold it, usually to non-Native American interests.
Until recently, the process for the federal government to take land in trust has included a 30-day “self-stay.” The self-stay was a “hold” on the transfer of title in order to determine if challengers to the decision would file in federal court. If a lawsuit was filed within the 30 days, no further action would take place until the judicial review was complete. Recently, the government ended its self-stay; without it, the government is assuming title to land prior to a determination of the legality of doing so.
Taking the Mashpee land out of trust isn’t a return to the Termination Era. It’s a return of the land to the tribe. They will still have a relationship with the federal government, their sovereignty and their federal aid. The only thing the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe won’t have is the ability to build a tax-free casino.

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