If an elusive Act of Congress materializes to changes current laws which prohibit the Mashpee Wampanaog tribe from opening a casino in Taunton, then the tribe still needs U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau for Indian Affairs approval. This approval involves submitting a formal application and defining under what specific criteria the tribe qualifies for land in trust. Details can be found on the Indian Affairs Bureau website here: http://www.bia.gov/WhatWeDo/ServiceOverview/Gaming/index.htm
Mashpee Wampanoag tribal council chair Cedric Cromwell’s last application for land in trust was rejected for being “incomplete” although the good chairman failed to disclose this rejection to his current “partners” in Taunton, former “partners” in Middleboro or even to members of his own tribe. Tribe members, Taunton and Middleboro officials only learned in news reports this March, three months after the Department of the Interior informed the tribe that their application had been rejected. When confronted this past March by local reporters Cromwell dismissed concerns about the failed application and simply said he intended to re-file the tribe’s application and update it with their new plans for the Tribe’s reservation casino resort complex in Taunton. Cromwell told Indian Country Today’s Gale Courey Toensing this April that the tribe had filed that application and that it was “pending with the Interior Department.” Further, Cromwell claims the tribe is seeking an exception to the current prohibition preventing his tribe from taking land into trust for gaming purposes. ICT reported:
The (IGRA) generally prohibits the federal government from taking land into trust for gaming after IGRA’s passage in 1988, but provides for “equal footing” exceptions to allow tribes to build their nations. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar delineated the exceptions in a to Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk. They include “[l]ands that are taken into trust for settlement of a land claim, as part of an initial reservation, or as restoration of lands for a tribe that is restored to federal recognition . . . in order to place certain tribes on equal footing.”
Cromwell said the tribe’s land into trust application had been updated and that an Environmental Impact Statement—a requirement for trust land under the —is underway. Further, Cromwell claimed, “We know we don’t have to have the land into trust by August 1 [a day after the deadline for the tribal-state compact]. We’re moving down that path very well and we’re confident about the outcome.”
How does Cromwell know he doesn't need his LIT in place? Did Stan McGee, the state's Indian gaming negotiator in chief, tell him not to worry? State legislators who voted last year to put in place the July 31, 2012 deadline were certainly led to believe a LIT application approval would be a sure-thing or else the Gaming Commission would have to open up the application process in Southeastern Massachusetts to commercial, non-Indian, applicants.
All the claims aside, Cromwell has declined to make this supposed updated application, environmental impact study plans or any corresponding evidence of their proper and timely filings available for public inspection. The Bureau of Indian Affairs website, where other tribes’ applications are posted and available for public review, makes no mention of a new Mashpee Wampanoag filing. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is supposed to make a determination whether or not to move forward with the Mashpee Tribe in fewer than 50 work days based on their assessment and determination that the application will be successful. Given the Commissions current record and delays a full review and honest vetting of a document they have not even seen is suspect at best.
Without public review of this supposedly renewed and refiled Mashpee Wampanoag land in trust application, the people of Taunton will not see what claims for their City the Tribe has before being asked to vote for or against allowing an Indian reservation casino as their neighbor. The people of Taunton will have little recourse by which they can remedy future concerns – and good reasons to believe that concerns will arise. When the Wampanoag filed their last application for land in trust, the Town of Mashpee was compelled to file formal complaints opposing the application as the Tribe had made multiple misrepresentations with regards to their agreements with the town in their filing.
Even the tribe’s own hometown of Mashpee has had to enlist and pay lawyers to prevent this reservation casino-bent gang from violating agreements with them. The Town of Mashpee had to have their lawyers write to the U.S. Bureau for Indian Affairs (BIA) on January 25, 2008 to oppose the Tribe’s application for land in trust claiming the Tribe misrepresented and made false claims about agreements with the town in their federal filings. The town wrote:
“Contrary to the Tribe’s assertions in its application, the Town has not yet agreed to transfer to the Tribe any of the Town’s right, title, or interest in and to any of these parcels….” Adding, “The relationship between the Tribe and the Town with respect to land and development has been controversial… while many residents of the Town have expressed concerns to Town officials regarding the Tribe’s proposed and potential future acquisitions of trust land and how the Tribe’s proposed development may affect the region…”
The Mashpee lawyers added, “Although the Tribe has stated that it does not intend to develop any of the Mashpee lands for gaming purposes, it has nonetheless requested on page 2 of the trust land request a determination by the Secretary that all the lands identified in the application constitute the initial reservation of a newly-recognized tribe on which gaming may be conducted… The Tribe’s application indicates that the Town will transfer its title to certain parcels of land… This is an inaccurate and presumptive assertion by the Tribe…”
If the tribe made inaccurate claims and mis-characterizations in their last application about the town in which they live, it should be a requirement that they allow the people of Taunton time to review their new application – which Chairman Cedric Cromwell has publicly claimed has been filed with BIA – well before being asked to vote on these reservation casino resort plans on June 9th. It appears the tribe's deal with the State precludes any inconvenient requirements that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission actually review the LIT according to Mr. Cromwell, which leaves only the people of Taunton to do so.