Drawing of the Mashpee tribe’s proposed casino, which is at the center of an ongoing legal battle.

Published May 21, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Lending support of the Mashpee Wampanoag in its fight to preserve its land in trust status, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), along with other members of Congress, filed a bicameral, bipartisan amicus brief with the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia on Wednesday.

The Mashpee tribe, based in Massachusetts, got support from all of the state’s congressional delegation signed the brief, including the U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey.

Haaland, who is a tribal citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, was joined by two other American Indians serving in Congress; Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS), who is a tribal citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation and Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), who is Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma citizen.  

The other American Indian serving in Congress, Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), did not join in supporting the amicus brief. 

In all, the amicus brief was co-signed by 25 members of Congress.  

The brief was filed to coincide with the Mashpee Wampanoag hearing in court on Wednesday.

On March 30, 2020, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe filed an emergency injunction and temporary restraining order in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia after the Bureau of Indian Affairs informed tribe’s Chairman Cedric Cromwell that U.S. Dept. of Interior (DOI) Secretary David Bernhardt was ordering Cromwell to disestablish his tribe’s reservation.

The amicus brief addressing the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe v. United States Department of the Interior the lawmakers argue that the Executive Branch infringed on the powers of Congress by attempting to exert unlawful authority over Indian tribes without a Congressional directive to take the Tribe’s land out of trust, especially during a national emergency.

“When it comes to Indian lands, congressional power is at its apex and the Executive Branch is forbidden to disturb tribal lands unless Congress has directed or permitted it in clear and unambiguous terms,” the brief outlines.

Earlier this year the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 312, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act to prevent these tribal lands from being taken out of trust. The U.S. Senate companion to the measure has been placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar awaiting floor action.

Other members of the Congress who signed the amicus brief include: Bill Keating, Joseph P. Kennedy III, Betty McCollum, Ruben Gallego, Lori Trahan, Derek Kilmer, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Pramila Jayapal, Susan A. Davis, Stephen F. Lynch, James P. McGovern, Darren Soto, Raúl M. Grijalva, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Katherine M. Clark, Kendra S. Horn, Veronica Escobar, Gwen Moore, and Jared Huffman. 

The full amicus brief is available here.

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