May 20, 2020

Kennedy, Haaland File Bicameral, Bipartisan Legal Brief to Protect Mashpee Wampanoag Land

Amicus brief for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe v. United States Department of the Interiors case signed by 25 members of Congress

Newton, MA – Today, Congressman Joe Kennedy III joined Congresswoman Deb Haaland (NM-01) to file a bicameral, bipartisan amicus brief against unprecedented action to remove Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s land from tribal trust status. The brief, signed by 25 members of Congress, was filed in Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe v. United States Department of the Interiors case in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia.

“The Mashpee Wampanoag people welcomed the pilgrims to our shores centuries ago,” said Congressman Kennedy. “In the years since, they have been met with nothing but injustice and intolerance that culminates today with the Trump Administration attempting to steal their land and their sovereignty. We cannot let this decision stand and I am grateful that so many of my colleagues from around our Commonwealth and country are joining this fight.”

Fourteen days after the United States declared a national emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of the Interior revoked their prior decision to take the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s land into trust that established the Tribe’s land in Massachusetts as reservation land. On March 30, 2020, the Tribe filed an emergency injunction and temporary restraining order in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia to prevent the Interior from disestablishing their reservation until a decision in the underlying case is rendered.

The amicus brief addressing the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe v. United States Department of the Interior argues that the Executive Branch infringed on the powers of Congress by attempting to exert unlawful authority over Indian tribes without a Congressional directive to take the Tribe’s land out of trust, especially during a national emergency.

In the brief the lawmakers outline that, “When it comes to Indian lands, congressional power is at its apex and the Executive Branch is forbidden to disturb tribal lands unless Congress has directed or permitted it in clear and unambiguous terms.”

Last May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Kennedy’s Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act to prevent these tribal lands from being taken out of trust. The U.S. Senate companion to the measure has been placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar awaiting floor action.

The amicus brief is signed by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) and U.S. Representatives Tom Cole, Bill Keating, Betty McCollum, Ruben Gallego, Lori Trahan, Derek Kilmer, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Pramila Jayapal, Susan A. Davis, Sharice L. Davids, Stephen F. Lynch, James P. McGovern, Darren Soto, Raúl M. Grijalva, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Katherine M. Clark, Kendra S. Horn, Veronica Escobar, Gwen Moore, and Jared Huffman. 

The full amicus brief is available here.