Colonization 2020

Trump administration revokes tribe’s reservation status.

Aƞpétu wašté (Good day)! I hope you are staying well, and I want you to know that we’re praying for all our relations impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. One benefit of sheltering in place is that we’re able to keep our eyes peeled for important news. In case you missed it, I wanted to highlight a recent attack on Indigenous sovereignty and ask for your solidarity for our Mashpee relatives.

At the end of last month, the Department of Interior announced that 321 acres of land will be taken out of trust, effectively revoking the reservation status of the Mashpee Wampanoag people of Massachusetts. For those who learned the Thanksgiving story in elementary school, the Wampanoag people broke bread with the Pilgrims in Plymouth colony, and it was Wampanoag land that the Pilgrims took. And now, in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic, President Trump’s cabinet is moving to rescind the sovereign status of these people.

President Obama placed the land in question into trust in 2015, but that decision has been reversed under Trump. A reinterpretation by our executive branch of a 2009 Supreme Court decision now only grants trust status to tribes recognized before 1934, when the Indian Reorganization Act was signed. Because the Mashpee weren’t federally recognized until 2007, they’ve now lost their status. As Jessie Little Doe Baird, vice chair of the tribe, said “they came for our children and took them to Carlisle because we were ‘too Indian.’ Today, they tell us we are not Indian enough.”

The Mashpee, who have lived in the Massachusetts area for over 12,000 years, are being denied their right to autonomy. With federal trust status comes the right to manage, develop, and tax a parcel of land. This “disestablishment” of the Mashpee reservation will likely force the closure of the tribal court and police department; it will cost Native people their livelihoods in an already barren economic landscape.

This blatant land-grab isn’t even court-ordered — the directive came from Trump’s Department of the Interior. Now, the Mashpee have asked a D.C. court to issue an emergency restraining order to prevent the dissolution of trust status, and Massachusetts senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey have vowed to combat this assault on the tribe’s self-determination, saying “We will not allow the Mashpee Wampanoag to lose their homeland.”

We Native people have struggled to retain less than 2.5 percent of our lands since European contact. The Indian Wars, in essence, have never truly ended. The United States’ long history of systemically suppressing Native rights continues, and in 2020, land trust removal is the latest iteration of that same legacy of colonialism. We are disheartened, but as Indigenous people and allies, we have each others’ backs in the face of adversity. You can stand for sovereignty by standing with the Mashpee people in their time of need.

Wopila — thank you. Solidarity forever,

Chase Iron Eyes
Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

We want to send a word out to the Mashpee Wampanoag. They tried to put land into trust in 2015 and they succeeded under President Obama. Again, here we go with that same theme where President Trump is overturning and doing a complete 180 on something positive that President Obama did. And this time it was taking land into trust and what’s not clear is the extent to which the Mashpee Wampanoag would lose civil regulatory criminal authority over those lands over the previous jurisdiction which is Indian country or Indian lands. It also includes the authority of the Mashpee Wampanoag to conduct commercial activities on the land, to tax the land, to zone the land, to develop, to exist in pursue our destiny. And one item that needs to be brought out is that the Mashpee Wampanoag attorneys have said that what the court has done here is issue a death knell for all the tribes who were not recognized prior to 1934. And we can’t allow the Trump administration to get away with it.  We need to choose how to make a stand and we’ve got to always have each other’s backs as indigenous nations because this is colonization 2020. You know if the Indian wars have never ended, we needed to start taking command of our lives and in protecting our communities. Just being born indigenous is a political act. It’s an act of resistance. It’s an act of spiritual liberation to recognize your own divinity on indigeneity and that’s what we had as a we share that divine knowledge. So, thank you for listening.

#StandWithMashpee Chase Iron Eyes

“they came for our children and took them to Carlisle because we were ‘too Indian.’ Today, they tell us we are not Indian enough.” Jessie Little Doe Baird

I’m Wopanaak Project, a MoveOn member, and I started a petition to The United States House of Representatives and The United States Senate, which says:

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the very tribe that welcomed the Pilgrims in the 1600s, is at risk of losing what is left of their homelands due to a determination made by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Sign Wopanaak’s petition

The Mashpee Wampanoag, the People of the First Light, have occupied the same region for over 12,000 years and have faced diminishment of their homelands since colonization. The latest decision is a blow to Tribal sovereignty and undermines the future and sustainability of the tribal nation. The Tribe is asking Congress to protect its reservation lands and has put forth the “Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act (HR.312).” We are asking for signatures in support of this legislation.


—Wopanaak Project

Thank you to 235,000 of you who signed our petition.

We continue to support the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, and as you can see members of Congress are listening and starting to take some action.

There are legal proceedings in the works, and while we await that frustrating yet important process we can still continue to share the petition, call members of Congress, and stay up to date on what’s happening.

Share the petition:

And stay connected with the Tribe on Facebook and the website.

Thank you,


Washington – The Friends Committee on National Legislation denounces the action taken by the Department of the Interior to disestablish the Mashpee Wampanoag reservation on March 27.

Contact: Tim McHugh, Friends Committee on National Legislation,; 202-903-2515

The land on which the Mashpee Wampanoag reservation exists has always been and will always be Mashpee Wampanoag land; however, disestablishing the reservation will put the sovereignty, culture, and Mashpee Wampanoag people at risk. Without their land, the Tribe will no longer be able to provide important services to its people. Such an attack on tribal sovereignty only serves to continue the legacy of violence perpetrated on Native people by the United States government.

Land is not only essential for carrying out certain acts of sovereignty and for economic development, it is also central to the identity and community of Native people. Attempting to strip a tribe of its land in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is cruel and further burdens tribes during this time.

The federal government has a trust responsibility to promote and protect tribal sovereignty. Therefore, federal agencies, including the Department of Interior, should be assisting tribes and ensuring they are in the best position protect their people during the current health crisis, rather than forcing tribes to defend their land rights in addition to addressing this crisis.

We ask that the Senate join the House of Representatives to honor the promises made to Native people by passing a clean Carcieri fix (PDF) (H.R. 375/S. 2808), which would protect tribal trust lands like the Mashpee Wampanoag Reservation, and reaffirm the status of the Mashpee Wampanoag’s reservation through H.R. 312.

To learn more, please visit

At 4:00 pm today — on the very day that the United States has reached a record 100,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and our Tribe is desperately struggling with responding to this devastating pandemic — the Bureau of Indian Affairs informed me that the Secretary of the Interior has ordered that our reservation be disestablished and that our land be taken out of trust.  Not since the termination era of the mid-twentieth century has a Secretary taken action to disestablish a reservation.

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?

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.

I will continue to provide updates on this important issue in the coming days as we take action to prevent the loss of our trust status.


Chairman Cedric Cromwell
Qaqeemasq (Running Bear)

The decision to disestablish the tribe’s land-in-trust comes a month after the First US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge’s decision that the Interior Department lacked the authority to take land into trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.

Conner Swanson, a spokesperson for the Department of Interior, said that the tribe did not petition for a panel rehearing of the appeals court’s decision and the court issued its mandate on March 19.

The court mandate “requires the Interior to rescind its earlier decision,” Mr. Swanson said in reference to the 2015 Obama Administration decision to grant the land-in-trust.

“This decision does not affect the federal recognition status of the Tribe, only Interior’s statutory authority to accept the land in trust,” Mr. Swanson said.

The suit against the tribe, brought by residents of Taunton, argued that the Obama Administration erred when determining that the Mashpee Wampanoag qualified as “Indian” under the second definition of the Indian Reservation Act of 1934.

The Trump Administration in 2018 determined that the tribe also does not meet the first definition of “Indian” under the IRA.

The tribe has argued in litigation pending in federal court in Washington, DC, that the Trump Administration’s 2018 decision is “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law.”


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