The 'Carcieri' Effect and the Misperceptions it has Caused

Cedric Cromwell

As Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, I am charged with assisting my people to recover from nearly four centuries of colonization and neglect. The Wampanoag Nation entered into a treaty with the colonists in 1621. The Mashpee people held their lands through 17th century deeds witnessed by John Alden, with terms that protected the homeland for our people until the Commonwealth of Massachusetts destroyed the reservation by allotting individual parcels that were soon taxed or sold out of tribal hands. Some years later, Massachusetts Senator Dawes took that allotment policy national through the Dawes Act, known as the General Allotment Act, designed to break up tribal communities and culture by eliminating tribal land bases. The policy was effective: we have lost much of our home, and are struggling to preserve our culture and community. But we are still here.

After waiting more than thirty years for the Interior Department to process our petition for federal acknowledgment, the Mashpee Wampanoag are desperately lacking in government services. The Tribe is still underfunded compared to other tribes, and struggles to provide assistance for significant health, housing and educational needs. Our minimal fee land holdings are threatened with local taxation. And we must confront the controversy and impediments posed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Carcieri v. Salazar. Federal policy and an express federal statute—the Indian Reorganization Amendments of 1994—prohibit unequal treatment of Indian tribes and yet the Carcieri ruling does just that.

The Carcieri decision is the greatest threat to tribal sovereignty since the General Allotment Act, and opens the possibility of condemning tribes to live with the benighted Indian policies of the nineteenth century. Those who exaggerate the holding of the case argue that the Interior Department may not acquire trust land on behalf of tribes “not recognized” in 1934. The Court did not so hold, but referred rather to whether a tribe was “under federal jurisdiction” as of that time. But the Court didn’t define the meaning of “under federal jurisdiction,” opening up extensive controversy and raising the specter of two classes of tribes, with one class permanently deprived of land. Along with other recently re-affirmed tribes, we are the ones who need land the most so we can begin to provide economically for our people.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is confident that the Secretary of the Interior has authority to take land in trust for our Tribe, but the confusion introduces substantial additional costs and delays. Not only will we have to face direct challenges to our Initial Reservation, but we will also have to deal with the consequences of litigation arising in other areas of the United States. Recent cases, still working through the courts, now expand the damage, exposing all tribal trust land to challenge—by a broader range of enemies. It is clear that these legal challenges will cost tribes greatly, in both time and money, even when the cases are devoid of merit.

The Carcieri effect is casting large shadows over tribal sovereignty now and into the future. It is being used as a weapon for a much broader attack on tribal sovereignty, either to change applicable law, or to delay its rightful implementation. So long as the purpose and effect of the Indian Reorganization Act remain clouded, all of Indian country faces expanding and unforeseen impediments to future well-being.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has been here since long before 1934. Despite centuries of protecting our homeland from encroachment, we were devastated by the first impact of forced allotment. In 1934, Congress recognized that allotment was a failed policy, unfairly destructive of tribal communities. We suffered that harm before 1934 and continue to suffer from it today. We ought to benefit from the actions and the assistance that Congress promised in 1934. We urge this Congress to take action to finish the job it started in 1934, and provide meaningful relief to Mashpee and to all other Indian tribes as we have all been harmed in the past by the destructive federal policies and Congressional enactments that the IRA sought to remedy. In so doing, we urge Congress to take action to prevent an isolated but powerful decision of the Supreme Court from becoming the pivot that begins the new erosion of Tribal sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship with the United States.

Cedric Cromwell is the Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. Elected in February of 2009, Chairman Cromwell has worked with Indian Country to promote equal treatment and respect of all sovereign Indian Nations. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has inhabited present-day Massachusetts and Rhode Island for 12,000 years.

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sonkwaban's picture
With all due respect to "the chief," you have no business casting racially laden stones at eastern tribes you feel have mixed too much to retain any Native heritage. It was the people of the east, including the Wampanoag who endured the initial wave of European immigration and subsequent manifest destiny. It was the Wampanoag who endured King Phillip's War spilling more blood than any war in the nation's history and losing many others to enslavement. And so while Eastern tribes, taking the blow for western nations, dwindled in number, but not strength, they found kinship with other oppressed indigenous people removed from their homeland. Intermarriage was not frowned upon because we knew nothing of racism and the kind of hatred white people brought upon this nation. We knew only of our tradition of tolerance and love for other human beings. It is so unfortunate that the federal recognition process has made us our own worst enemies perpetuating the worst kind of inter-tribal racism that pits light tribes against darker ones in the name of federal funding and gaming rights. Yes there are those who are in it for opportunity, but they are not defined by skin color or hair texture. I can assure you the Mashpee Wampanoag are not among them. Our petition for federal recognition was initiated in 1974 before there was a National Indian Gaming Act. It was motivated by the continued loss of our ancestral homelands that had been set aside and promised to us forever in the 1600s when your people were probably still comfortable in your teepees hunting buffalo. Despite hundreds of years of war, oppression, attempted genocide and now racism among our own people, we thrive and Mashpee is considered a cultural mecca for Eastern Native people. Our traditions have been passed down through the generations and we are among the proudest of Native people anywhere. I think your question should not be about who looks like Native American, but who acts like one.
thechief's picture
if you want to practice your ways that is your opinion. i am afraid that we are running into a slippery slope by allowing the nose bleed indians the ability to have trust land. i recall when donald trump sued the pequots all of the controversy that came out when the general public found out what qualifications you had to be a tribal member. Specifically, this Cedric guy seems to be an opportunist. I don't really understand why his tribe needs trust land so bad. Maybe he doesn't understand that although tribes don't pay property taxes on that trust land they have usually they have some agreement with the local municipality for services which amount to the equivalent of paying property taxes. the only other reason why somebody would be so passionate about getting trust land is to build a gaming operation.
thechief's picture
It is my business if they are trying to get trust land. Who is to say that Mexicans are not going to be the next group that want trust land. According to their history half of the American Southwest was part of the Aztec Empire. They probably have more indigineous blood than the blacks and whites I saw at the conference. What about Puerto Ricans? They claim to be Taino. Its funny how black indians are so sensitive about looking black. If you look black and you want to be native blame your ancestors, not others that call out the obvious. I know alot of white indians that have a good sense of humor about their skin color. What is the blood quantum requirement to be a Mashpee Wampanoag anyways? As for this carcieri issue, I don't think tribes federally recognized after 1934 should get any additional trust land. If they lost their land the first time they will just lose it again or intermarry with some other "oppressed indigineous people removed from their homeland" and trust land will be occupied by foreigners once again.
sonkwaban's picture
The Mashpee Wampanaog need trust land just like any other legitimate native tribe to maintain our land base in our ancestral homeland, a place where our people have lived for more than 13,000 years. What "thechief" should know is that getting our land into trust is critical to our tribal housing initiative, health and education programs, and many other things as well as economic development to benefit tribal citizens. The chief should get to know Cedric Cromwell before calling him names. He is a remarkable man of incredible strength and integrity as well as a very spiritual person.
longhair's picture
I don't agree with "the Chief" when he says, "I don’t think tribes federally recognized after 1934 should get any additional trust land." Indians predate the formation of American and the feds have no business to mandate who is Indian and who isn't. For our own sakes, we need to stop according the fed such a level of importance. And wait a minute Sonkwaban. You say Mashpee is considered a cultural mecca for Eastern Native people? I wish that was true but it isn't because unfortunately the Mashpee Wampanoags are one of the most intolerant groups in the country. Sadly, your people are constantly attacking the Narragansetts, calling them non-Indians on Facebook; they are constantly labeling non-status Indians 'wannabes;' and they tend to call many other legitimate tribes Whites. All this despite the fact that everyone in your own tribe is a mix of Black and Portuguese. I have generally found Blacks to be rather accepting but this is not true when it comes to your people. Within your Mashpee tribe, there is a spectrum of people ranging from those with lighter skin like Jessie Baird who spewed her racist hatred all over MIT (for instance, even though I am a citizen of the Navajo Nation, she called me a wannabe and publicly humiliated me) to those with darker skin tones who appear a little more tolerant than the rest, but only marginally more tolerant. If your tribe expects the rest of us to support your causes, maybe your people need to tone down their expression of intolerance and treat us like your brothers in good times. Then we will support you in your times of need. Incidentally, I was at MIT with Jessie Baird and it saddens me to convey that your laboratory-recreated language was merely designed to give a certain prominent individual some additional academic credentials; it is not your real Wampanoag language by any standards.
thechief's picture
LMAO..tribal housing health and education programs. Maybe you haven't googled your tribe lately but an investor fronted your tribe money to start a casino at fifteen percent interest. In order to start the casino you need trust land. This would explain the urgency to get the land into trust.
truebear's picture
My Brother, Chairman Cromwell; I do very much applaud your strong leadership for your People as the results of your tireless effort will benefit all of Indian country. As noted if a tribal nation does not believe they effected by the Carcieri decision let a tribal nation attempt to re-claim their Homeland through the Land into Trust process. As noted; this is a direct frontal attack on all of Indian country and we need to STAND UNITED when it comes to protection of our shared sovereignty. Again, Thank you for your leadership! Scan^ - In Peace & Friendship Brian Patterson President, United South & Eastern Tribes
sonkwaban's picture
Like I said, there is inter-tribal racism everywhere and it is pretty sad - Your personal experience not withstanding, I base my experience on more mature venues than facebook. Ideally we as native people across the nation would be more unified instead of being so divisive but I fear the introduction of gaming was designed to do just that and ultimately achieve the government's goal of genocide. I am not among those who favored gaming, but it became a reality for our tribe because the decades long battle for federal recognition turned out to be the most expensive and cumbersome legal litmus test this country ever staged. Our tribe had attempted to do this on our own using only NARF attorneys and volunteers and had our petition passed over by other tribes with gaming backers and high paid lawyers and lobbyists. Had we not accepted the aid of gaming backers, we would still be waiting. Personally I would have much preferred an economic development initiative less toxic like one linked to green energy. My fear was that gaming would bring out the worst in us... it did (Google Glen Marshall.) We are now in it for the long haul and fortunate enough to have a leader of integrity in Cedric Cromwell so we may get the Casino business done and focus on our housing development and other health and welfare issues that "thechief" is laughing about.
softbreeze's picture
I think alot of the opinions and feelings expressed here are very understandable. Many of the native nations are now dependant on the dominant culture for their sustainence and their very survival, really. And, of course, since no matter how many tribes achieve federal recognition, the amount allotted for federal benefits usually doesn't increase in relation to the number of new tribes recognized. This results in a smaller slice of the pie for everyone, the higher the number of nations recognized. And since the dominant culture recognizes race over culture, it's not surprising that this has created a schism between those of higher blood quantum verses those of lower blood quantum. Also, I think it's understandable for people to wonder why those of us who do not look native american by race but who live the culture would be considered a strange phenomenon to everyone else, native and non-native included. We deal with alot of prejudice and intolerance because people don't understand why we choose to live the way we do. It's understandable especially coming from full-blood natives who have experienced almost nothing but intolerance, contempt, and abuse from other people who look like us. So, of course they are going to wonder about and suspect ulterior motives. Who wouldn't? But, know that the more people who respect, understand, and embrace native american cultural values, the better for everyone and Mother Earth.
rezzdog's picture
The Chief, ICTMN Op/Ed Editor here. You bring up the race card. But, let us not forget the deep and long history every tribe has of adoption. Your Race card brings up a good discussion, is it Nature or is it Nurture that gives us our culture and relationship to the environment? Even a full blood can be an ass, I'm a perfect example. Sure there is such a thing as genetic memory, but even so, with out nurture the nature cannot flourish. If you met an Apache in the middle of summer, would you call him a black person and therefore, according to your logic, he would not be native, indigenous, aboriginal or what ever your word of choice de jour is. When we start labeling ourselves, their work is complete.