In Massachusetts, the federally-recognized Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has won the right to be included in certain future court proceedings relating to a lawsuit that is seeking to block the construction of its planned First Light Resort And Casino.
According to a report from the Cape Cod Times newspaper, July saw Judge William Young from the United States District Court For The District Of Massachusetts rule against the federal government’s 2015 land-into-trust decision for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. The case, Littlefield v Department Of The Interior, was brought by a group of local property owners opposed to last year’s decision to grant the tribe 151 acres of reservation land on which to construct the $1 billion casino near the city of Taunton.
In his ruling, Young declared that the Department Of The Interior had lacked the authority to approve the land-into-trust application from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe as the tribe had not been federally recognized at the time the landmark 1934 Indian Reorganization Act was passed. He cited the 2009 decision from the United States Supreme Court in the case of Carcieri v Salazar and claimed that tribes could only be eligible for a reservation if they had held an official relationship with the federal government at the time this legislation was ratified.
The federal government immediately appealed this decision while the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which had not been named as a defendant in the initial action, subsequently asked to be included so as to guarantee its rights were protected and represented in court.
“This is an important legal victory,” Cedric Cromwell, Chairman for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, told the Cape Cod Times. “It allows us to directly participate in the case.”
In his September 23 ruling, Young ruled that the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe can now be involved in court proceedings only involving his July judgment while Michelle Littlefield, lead plaintiff in Littlefield v Department Of The Interior, declared that she was not surprised by the decision.
“This judge is extremely fair and we weren’t surprised by his decision,” Littlefield told the newspaper. “It really doesn’t matter who participates in the case. The bottom line is that this tribe has never qualified for land in trust [and] that can’t be changed.”
The Boston Globe reported that the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe won federal recognition in 2007 following a 32-year legal struggle. It began preliminary construction on its First Light Resort And Casino in April but has since been forced to suspend all but essential work at the site located about 38 miles south of Boston.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe had originally hoped to open its First Light Resort And Casino by the summer of next year with some 1,900 slots alongside 60 table games. In anticipation, the tribe held a jobs and vendor fair for the development in May and explained at the time that the entire project when finished could feature up to 3,000 slots and 150 table games as well as a trio of 300-room hotels, a water park and spa, an indoor pool, nine retail stores and a 31,000 sq ft multi-purpose function room.