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Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe celebrates legal victory over land in trust 

Sarah Mizes-Tan / WCAI

On Monday, the U.S Supreme Court announced that it would not hear an appeal by a group of Taunton, Massachusetts, residents who sought to reverse a lower court’s ruling to keep Mashpee Wampanoag tribal lands in trust.

Now the tribe can continue discussions about what to do with the land, including whether to pursue a casino.

“Now that this is affirmed, I think that we'll be seeing a lot more announcements,” said Tribal Chairman Brian Weeden. “We're seeing if there's still that appetite out there, which we have kind of gauged the community a little bit to see if we're still interested.”

Weeden added that conversations about land use across the two parcels, totaling 321 acres in Falmouth and Taunton, will also be about building a tribal school to educate members on their language, culture, traditions, and more.

“This means that we can hold on to this place for the future generations. And we're supposed to look at the next seven generations, just like our ancestors did,” he said. “That's why it's important for us to make sure that they have a place here to call home.”

This was the final ruling of a case originally brought in 2015.

After the Department of Interior under the Obama administration put the land into trust for the tribe, a group of about two dozen Taunton residents challenged the move, saying the tribe did not fall under the federal government’s definition of “Indian,” and therefore land could not be put into trust on their behalf.

An attorney for the Taunton residents couldn’t be reached on Tuesday.

Since 2015, the case has made its way through the courts, with the Taunton residents and the tribe each pressing its case.

Last February, a U.S District Court judge ruled that the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe satisfies the federal definition of "Indian,” and the Taunton residents filed the petition with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the lower court had wrongly dismissed their case.

Weeden, the Tribal Chairman, said he received word that the court denied the petition from his lawyers while in the Tribe’s government center and sent the council members and employees home early to celebrate the news with their families.

“I think that we're all happy to see the courts affirm something that we've known from time immemorial,” Weeden said. “And, you know, it's more important that we recognize our ancestors that paid the ultimate sacrifice for us to be here at this moment. This is just the beginning. So we're excited.”

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.