Aƞpétu wašté (Good day)! I hope you are staying well, and I want you to know that we’re praying for all our relations impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. One benefit of sheltering in place is that we’re able to keep our eyes peeled for important news. In case you missed it, I wanted to highlight a recent attack on Indigenous sovereignty and ask for your solidarity for our Mashpee relatives.
At the end of last month, the Department of Interior announced that 321 acres of land will be taken out of trust, effectively revoking the reservation status of the Mashpee Wampanoag people of Massachusetts. For those who learned the Thanksgiving story in elementary school, the Wampanoag people broke bread with the Pilgrims in Plymouth colony, and it was Wampanoag land that the Pilgrims took. And now, in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic, President Trump’s cabinet is moving to rescind the sovereign status of these people.
The Lakota People’s Law Project stands with the Mashpee Wampanoag in the struggle to defend their birthright to live on the land of their ancestors, and we ask that you take a few moments to watch my video and #StandWithMashpee too.
President Obama placed the land in question into trust in 2015, but that decision has been reversed under Trump. A reinterpretation by our executive branch of a 2009 Supreme Court decision now only grants trust status to tribes recognized before 1934, when the Indian Reorganization Act was signed. Because the Mashpee weren’t federally recognized until 2007, they’ve now lost their status. As Jessie Little Doe Baird, vice chair of the tribe, said “they came for our children and took them to Carlisle because we were ‘too Indian.’ Today, they tell us we are not Indian enough.”
The Mashpee, who have lived in the Massachusetts area for over 12,000 years, are being denied their right to autonomy. With federal trust status comes the right to manage, develop, and tax a parcel of land. This “disestablishment” of the Mashpee reservation will likely force the closure of the tribal court and police department; it will cost Native people their livelihoods in an already barren economic landscape.
This blatant land-grab isn’t even court-ordered — the directive came from Trump’s Department of the Interior. Now, the Mashpee have asked a D.C. court to issue an emergency restraining order to prevent the dissolution of trust status, and Massachusetts senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey have vowed to combat this assault on the tribe’s self-determination, saying “We will not allow the Mashpee Wampanoag to lose their homeland.”
We Native people have struggled to retain less than 2.5 percent of our lands since European contact. The Indian Wars, in essence, have never truly ended. The United States’ long history of systemically suppressing Native rights continues, and in 2020, land trust removal is the latest iteration of that same legacy of colonialism. We are disheartened, but as Indigenous people and allies, we have each others’ backs in the face of adversity. You can stand for sovereignty by standing with the Mashpee people in their time of need.
Wopila — thank you. Solidarity forever,
Chase Iron Eyes
The Lakota People’s Law Project