Stockbridge-Munsee stands with tribe facing land trust loss

Holsey writes letter backing Mashpee Wampanoag

Evan J. Pretzer

A pending decision from the U.S. Department of the Interior on whether to keep holding land in trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribal Council Inc. in Massachusetts has alarmed Native American communities across the country, including the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe in Bowler.

If land currently governed by the Mashpee is removed from trust — a system where land is held for native tribes who are then given certain benefits as a result — it would be the first removal of land in more than 50 years and would signal a major shift in how native tribes interact with the federal government.

For the Stockbridge-Munsee, who have ancestral roots in Massachusetts, it’s not something to be taken lightly. As a result, the tribe sent a letter to federal officials in June, urging Congress to pass legislation to reaffirm the protected status of the eastern tribe.

“We first heard about the Mashpee case through the National Congress of American Indians,” Stockbridge-Munsee President Shannon Holsey said. “They, like any tribe, are entitled to be federally protected. We all have our own rights to self-determination.”

Initially awarded more than 300 acres of what is viewed as historical land during the Obama administration, the Mashpee began developing the space — including a housing development — through construction of roads and underground infrastructure and were in discussions with a gambling company in Malaysia about a partnership before local residents (backed by a rival gambling business in Chicago) sued in federal court to stop the measure before President Donald Trump took office, according to a recent report from The Associated Press

As a result, the future of the tribe and their various developments remains uncertain. The AP reported that, if the land trust decision were reversed, the Mashpee would have to pay back taxes, disband their court system and shut down their two-person police department. This is something Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell hopes can be ultimately avoided through increased awareness and aid from other sovereign tribal nations to support legislation pending in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate which would reaffirm the land status for the group.

“We have no timeline on decisions yet from the federal government,” he said. “We’re essentially waiting to hear, but when federal sovereign nations speak out this is very influential and important. It is important for Congress to hear these voices and letters (like the one from the Stockbridge-Munsee) really help.”

The Stockbridge-Munsee letter is urging Congress to allow the Mashpee to go about their business.

“Congress must exercise its plenary authority to ensure that the Mashpee Tribe and its reservation land is protected,” Holsey wrote last month. “The Mashpee Tribe, like all other federally recognized tribes, should be entitled to a federally protected reservation where it can exercise its sovereignty, protect its culture and engage in self-determination.”


Aside from the potential land withdrawal, other changes to how the federal government handles native lands proposed by the Trump administration include giving the public a month to appeal any land trust decisions and a new pledge to comply with any court orders rather than appeal them as had been done in the past. The new policies are currently pending and have not been implemented.

Source: The Associated Press