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Feds Approve Reservation For Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe As It Plans Casino

BOSTON (AP) — The federal government officially designated Mashpee Wampanoag lands as a reservation on Friday, a move the Cape Cod tribe says paves the way for construction of a resort casino and establishment of a sovereign tribal nation within Massachusetts' borders.

The announcement comes after the U.S. Department of Interior in September accepted the tribe's application for land in trust status for 170 acres in the town of Mashpee and 151 acres in Taunton, a city some 50 miles away.

"This cements our right to self-determination now and for future generations," Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell said in a statement. "After decades of painstaking work, we are overjoyed the government of the United States has officially issued this reservation proclamation, as we are witnessing the rebirth of our nation."

The tribe, which received federal recognition in 2007 after decades of trying, traces its ancestry to the native Americans that negotiated peace with the Pilgrims after the Mayflower landed in Plymouth nearly four centuries ago,

Cromwell said the Mashpee still intend to move forward with plans to build a resort casino in Taunton, a city about 40 miles south of Boston, starting this spring.

He noted no lawsuits have yet been filed to challenge the federal decision. Opponents of the tribe's proposed resort casino in Taunton have told state gambling officials they intend to file suit, but warned it could take years to file the legal challenge.

The tribe's casino plans also impact the state's plans to award the final of three resort casino licenses. A Chicago-based developer is the lone applicant for that license and is proposing a resort for nearby Brockton.

Massachusetts currently has two resort casinos in development — one by MGM in Springfield and another by Wynn Resorts in the Boston area. Plainridge Park Casino, a combination slots parlor and harness racing track, has also been in operation in Plainville, about 25 miles from the tribe's proposed casino, since the summer.

In the meantime, Cromwell says the tribe is taking more pressing steps to establish its sovereign nation.

That, he says, includes establishing public safety services on tribal lands in Mashpee, a town on Cape Cod where the tribe has built a government center. Cromwell says the tribe has recently adopted its own criminal laws and is finalizing an agreement with local officials to provide a booking room, a holding cell and dispatch services for the tribe.

"Re-establishing sovereignty and building a modern nation is no small task," he added.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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