The chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Cedric Cromwell, joined a virtual Indigenous Peoples Day campaign event hosted by the Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr., on Monday, October 12, to urge people to vote.
For the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the outcome of the presidential election is tied closely to the tribe’s sovereignty over 321 acres of reservation land, which the administration of President Donald J. Trump has fought to disestablish.
“This administration acted out of control against my tribe,” Mr. Cromwell said of the Trump administration. “I really want to urge everyone to get out and vote—you must vote—you soon will have a new President of the United States: President Biden.”
The Trump administration has taken a combative approach as the tribe has fought on multiple fronts to protect its reservation lands.
Mr. Trump himself took aim at the tribe on Twitter in 2019 when he called a bill to preserve the tribe’s reservation “a special interest casino Bill, backed by Elizabeth (Pocahontas) Warren.” The bill passed the US House of Representatives with bipartisan support but has languished in the Republican-controlled Senate for more than a year.
Mr. Cromwell appeared in the Zoom call among a lineup of high-profile Democrats, Native American leaders and musical performances by Native artists that drew a stark contrast between Mr. Biden and the incumbent Mr. Trump.
Mr. Cromwell’s comments followed remarks by Mr. Biden, who served as vice president during the administration of President Barack H. Obama. The Obama-Biden administration placed more than 500,000 acres into federal trust—including 321 acres for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in 2015.
“As president I’ll make tribal sovereignty and upholding our federal trust and treaty responsibilities to tribal nations a cornerstone of federal Indian policy,” Mr. Biden said. “I’ll promote self-governance and self-determination and recognize it.”
Mr. Biden referenced a lengthy policy plan for tribal relations published by his campaign that mentions the Mashpee Wampanoag by name. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council voted last month to endorse the Biden campaign.
A Biden administration would seek to place more Native American land into federal trust and would call on Congress to pass a legislative fix to the Supreme Court decision known as the Carcieri Decision, the policy plan says.
The Carcieri Decision, which is at the center of the tribe’s legal battles for reservation land, “made fulfilling that responsibility harder by restricting the federal government’s ability to put land into trust,” Mr. Biden says in the policy plan.
The 2009 decision found that the word “now” in the first of three definitions of “Indian” in the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 means “in 1934.” The decision has meant tribes have had to prove that they can be considered “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934 in order to qualify for reservation land.
With the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the Trump administration has sought to use the Carcieri Decision to disestablish the tribe’s reservation land.
The Carcieri Decision formed the legal groundwork when a US District Court judge in Boston found in 2016 that the Obama administration erred when it granted the Mashpee tribe land in trust under the second definition of “Indian,” a decision upheld on appeal earlier this year.
When the district court judge ordered in 2016 that the US Department of the Interior reassess the tribe’s eligibility for reservation land, the Trump administration in 2018 issued a disfavorable decision that the tribe challenged in a Washington, DC, court.
After the tribe lost the Boston appeal this past February, the Trump administration in March—as the COVID-19 pandemic flared in the US—ordered that the tribe’s reservation lands be disestablished.
But litigation brought in 2018 against the Interior Department by the tribe in US District Court in Washington, DC, held up the order to disestablish the tribe’s land.
This past June, a federal judge at that court ruled that the Trump administration’s determination the tribe did not qualify as “under federal jurisdiction in 1934” was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and contrary to law.”
The ruling ordered the Trump administration to reassess the tribe’s qualifications for reservation land in a manner that viewed all of the hundreds of pages of evidence filed by the tribe “in concert,” as required by the Interior Department’s own legal guidance.
The evidence provided by the tribe included census rolls from 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930, various federal reports with references to the tribe, and records of tribal members attending a Bureau of Indian Affairs school.
The Trump administration has since appealed the case. The litigation with the tribe appears likely to continue into Mr. Trump’s second term if he is reelected.
After Mr. Biden’s remarks on Monday, Mr. Cromwell recalled the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s well-documented history.
“We were great nations before this country was formed, the blood and the bones of our ancestors are in this land that we stand on which helped form this great country,” the chairman of the tribe said.
When the Mayflower came to what is now the United States in 1620, it landed first in present-day Provincetown, where colonists encountered members of the Wampanoag Nation.
“We gave up the first land in Plymouth Colony which was the anchor of this country, the United States,” Mr. Cromwell said. “We helped form this great nation’s holiday, Thanksgiving, as we met the first settlers and helped them through their harsh winters.”
At the Indigenous Peoples Day event, Mr. Biden called for unity.
“I am running to unite this country, to embrace light not darkness, the future, not the past, to appeal to the best in us, not the worst—this is the most important election of our lifetime,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s about facing the often hard facts about where we come from and honoring commitments with action.”
That same day, Mr. Trump issued a proclamation on the Columbus Day federal holiday, celebrated annually on October 12.
In 14 states and more than 130 cities, including the Town of Mashpee, Indigenous Peoples Day has officially replaced the federal holiday named after the Italian explorer who “discovered” a continent already inhabited by Native peoples, and employed slavery and genocide against them.
Mr. Trump’s proclamation doubled down on the embattled holiday and warned that “radical activists have sought to undermine Christopher Columbus’s legacy.”
“Rather than learn from our history, this radical ideology and its adherents seek to revise it, deprive it of any splendor, and mark it as inherently sinister,” Mr. Trump said in the proclamation that makes no note of Indigenous Peoples. “Today, we celebrate Columbus Day to commemorate the great Italian who opened a new chapter in world history and to appreciate his enduring significance to the Western Hemisphere.”
With Election Day just weeks away, Mr. Cromwell’s calls to vote were joined by a chorus of Native and Democratic speakers at the Indigenous Peoples Day event hosted by Biden.
“Time and time again our Native American brothers and sisters have seen the federal government break solemn promises, turn its back on the needs of the Native people and see huge corporations place profits ahead of the sovereign rights of the native communities,” said US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who has supported the Mashpee tribe in their battle for reservation land.
“This must change, on November 3 we must elect an administration that will fight for the sovereignty, justice, opportunity and dignity of Native American people,” Sen. Sanders said.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) also spoke.
“Joe Biden understands the importance of respecting tribal sovereignty and tribal lands,” Sen. Warren said. “Whether it’s defending the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s homelands right here in my home state of Massachusetts or advocating for a clean Carcieri fix or supporting tribal water rights elsewhere in the United States, he will show the respect that you deserve.”