Trump Administration Takes Tribal Land Out of Trust, Crushes Tribal Casino Plans

The Donald Trump administration enacted an unprecedented ruling this week that takes a Massachusetts tribal land out of trust. The move effectively crushes the tribe's plans to open a casino. It marks the first time the government has disestablished a reservation since the termination era.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) ruling deals a devastating blow to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and its plans to build a casino in Taunton, Massachusetts, but could pave the way for a third commercial casino in the state.

The law to allow casino gambling in Massachusetts allows for just three casinos total. So far, only two licenses have been awarded to commercial entities. The state left the possibility open for a tribal casino, and it looked as if the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe would fill the third slot.

The tribe had its land signed into trust by the DOI and established a gaming compact with the state. It was well on its way to constructing the casino when a group of Taunton residents challenged the DOI's decision to place the tribe's land in trust.

The court ruled in favor of the residents, forcing the tribe to cease construction on the Taunton casino. The tribe filed an appeal. Eleven months later, the DOI issued its decision to permanently take the land out of trust.

According to a letter to the tribe written by Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeny, the tribe was not under federal jurisdiction in 1934 and does not meet the definition of “Indian.”

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