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Judge Sides With Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe In Lawsuit Over Reservation Status

BOSTON (AP) — A judge has stopped the federal government from rescinding its reservation designation for a Native American tribe's land in Massachusetts, ordering the Interior Department to review the matter and issue new findings.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman in Washington, D.C., granted a summary judgment on behalf of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Friday, concluding the Interior Department's actions were "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law."

The Cape Cod-based tribe, which traces its ancestry to the Native Americans that shared a fall harvest meal with the Pilgrims in 1621, gained federal recognition in 2007. It has more than 300 acres in the town of Mashpee and in Taunton near the Rhode Island state line and has broken ground on a $1 billion resort and casino.

"Today marks a victory for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in their struggle to preserve their reservation lands from the arbitrary actions of the Trump administration," said U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, D-Massachusetts, whose district includes the tribe's land.

A sign where the Mashpee Wapanoag tribe wants to build a casino in Taunton. (WBZ-TV)

The tribe learned in late March that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs would be rescinding the reservation designation and removing the land from federal trust. Cedric Cromwell, the tribe's chairman, called it a "sucker punch" undertaken in the middle of a pandemic.

It said the Trump administration's action, if it had been allowed to stand, would have destroyed much of what the tribe has worked to build in recent years on its sovereign lands.

That includes establishing an independent judicial system, police force and Wampanoag-language school, as well as building tribal housing and beginning to build the casino.

"We hope to see justice continue to prevail, and we ask that everyone continue to stand with Mashpee," he told the Cape Cod Times.

(© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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