The Mashpee Wampanoag raised their nation’s flag for the first time on their newly designated tribal land on Monday afternoon and celebrated what they are calling the next step towards breaking ground this spring on their Project First Light casino in Taunton. Meanwhile, a local anti-casino advocate along with her supporters say they will do whatever it takes to raise the money necessary to file a lawsuit challenging the federal government and preventing the $500 million casino project in East Taunton, Massachusetts from moving forward.
After tribal lands in Taunton and Mashpee, were officially declared a reservation by the U.S. Department of Interior on Friday, an opponent group called Preserving Tauntons Future, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has been formed by well-known, local anti-casino advocate Michelle Littlefield and fellow residents to solicit donations sufficient to initiate a court challenge. Littlefield said,“We’ll do everything humanly possible to raise the money we need and if necessary bring this all the way to the Supreme Court,” according to the Taunton Daily Gazette. Littlefield said that they will choose a law firm wisely and while she’s aware raising the necessary funds for the group’s “Justice Fund”won’t happen overnight, federal law allows up to six years for her group to file the suit.
In September the U.S. Department of the Interior approved land into trust applications for the transfer of approximately 151 acres of land in East Taunton and 170 acres in Mashpee for the tribe. The tribe’s headquarters is on the 321 acres, along with museum, burial grounds and the area where it has plans to construct affordable housing for members of the tribe. Key to the argument against the government’s action is the claim that when the Indian Reorganization Act was established in 1934 the tribe was not under federal jurisdiction. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, first acquired trust lands cannot be used for gaming until they are declared a reservation under the Indian Reorganization Act. The reservation proclamation announced Friday morning in the Federal Register closely follows the transfer of formal ownership by the tribe of approximately 321 acres of tribal lands in the City of Taunton and the Town of Mashpee to be held in trust for the tribe by the federal government.
The Preserving Tauntons Future website states the group is “is committed to retaining the rights of citizens to protect the status of land in East Taunton.” According to Littlefield, her organization’s cause is also being supported by attorney and former Middleboro selectman Adam Bond. Bond is a longtime critic of the Mashpee tribe, which on a previous occasion backed out of a tentative deal in 2007 to build a billion-dollar casino in the town of Middleboro. Littlefield is confident that her group’s lawsuit would prevail and if that were to happen it could theoretically lead to the closure of Project First Light. Littlefield stated that the government clearly overreached and its designation of tribal land won’t stand.