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Mashpee Tribe Confident in New Ruling, Call for Accountability of Federal Government

Kathryn Eident
File photo from 2016: Mashpee Wampanoag elders raise the tribe's flag for the first time at their government headquarters in Mashpee to commemorate the federal government's recognition of more than 300 acres as the tribe's sovereign land.

A top official in the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe says the federal government should pay damages for not only failing to defend the tribe, but for trying to take away its land in Mashpee and Taunton.


Tribal vice chairwoman Jessie Little Doe Baird says they've suffered over the last few years while the Interior Department waged a legal fight, and the Department should be held accountable.


"The tribal community has gone without so many services, and people have gone without their jobs, and then there is a massive amount of costs we have had to incur because of legal defense," Baird said.


Federal judge Paul Friedman ruled Friday that the Interior Department abused its discretion when trying to strip the tribe of its reservation status. Friedman also ordered the Department to resubmit a new decision on whether the tribe was under federal jurisdiction at the time of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, and thus eligible to have their land held in trust by the federal government.


While confident in the judge's ruling, Baird says the tribe's pursuit to protect their land into perpetuity is not over.


"If you're an Indian person you can never say the war is won, but it's a battle won," the vice-chairwoman said. "I don't have to worry about our language school closing; our housing project could just stop tomorrow. I've been up so many nights worrying about those things. And I'm glad."


Baird says she's also confident the Interior Department will have to rule in their favor, because they've met the legal standard across the board.


Meanwhile, the judge's decision last week has prompted an out-pouring of support from the region's congressional delegation.


US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey released a joint statement saying the decision was a major victory for the tribe, and for justice. 


Congressman Bill Keating said in a statement that the Trump Administration has pursued a policy designed to punish the Mashpee Wampanoag, and the judge's ruling corrects that wrong.