While the nation grappled with the terrifying coronavirus pandemic last year, the Trump administration’s heinous agenda continued to quietly unfold behind the scenes.
On March 28th of 2020, the Bureau of Indian Affairs announced that they would be disestablishing the reservation of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and taking their Massachusetts tribal lands out of trust, just four years after 320 acres were placed in trust and 13 years after the tribe was finally recognized by the federal government.
In the middle of the #coronavirus crisis, the Trump admin disestablished the reservation of the Mashpee Wampanoag—the tribe that welcomed the pilgrims.
— Rebecca Nagle (@rebeccanagle) March 28, 2020
It was a painful irony since the Mashpee Wampanoag are the only survivors of the nine tribes who signed a treaty with the Pilgrims in 1621 and celebrated the First Thanksgiving. They hold a prominent position in America’s whitewashed mythology, but that has inexcusably not translated to any material benevolence in the modern era.
The Mashpee Wampanoag have had to fight a decades-long battle to reclaim their ancestral lands and win recognition from the federal government since their first filing in 1976 — and now they’ve had them snatched away again by the Trump administration.
“Today’s action was cruel and it was unnecessary. 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?” wrote Chairman Cedric Cromwell in a statement.
“Regardless of the answer, we the People of the First Light 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. We have survived, we will continue to survive. These are our lands, these are the lands of our ancestors, and these will be the lands of our grandchildren. This Administration has come and it will go. But we will be here, always. And we will not rest until we are treated equally with other federally recognized tribes and the status of our reservation is confirmed.”
A lawsuit was immediately filed in opposition to the Interior Department’s placing of the land in a trust by David and Michelle Littlefield, seeking to stymie the tribe’s plans to build their own casino and hotel.
That eventually led to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in late February that the Interior Department never had the authority to take the land into a trust because the tribe was not federally recognized at the time of the passage of the 1934 Indian Reform Act, upholding a mystifying and discriminating precedent established by the conservative-dominated 2009 Supreme Court’s decision in Carcieri vs. Salazar.
The idea that a Native American tribe shouldn’t be allowed to reclaim their ancestral homelands because they were forcibly displaced from that land by racist settler-colonists and didn’t meet the white man’s criteria for tribal status seventy years ago is outrageous.
This disestablishment was the latest kick in the teeth to the survivors of American genocide by an administration that prided itself on abusing our nation’s minorities.
Thankfully, the Biden administration has put an abrupt stop to the legal battle to wrest the Wampanoag lands away from them.
It will not surprise you to learn that Trump had a long-standing feud with the Wampanoag.
True story: Trump had a longstanding feud with this tribe over control of a casino and https://t.co/nvMFC4Vsmx
— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) March 28, 2020
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.