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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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.
longhair's picture
I lived right next to the Bourne Bridge for a year, in Woods Hole for 14 years, in Boston for 13 years, in Falmouth for 27 years and in Mashpee for 3 years. If Mashpee was a cultural mecca for Eastern Native people, I would have known it. Instead, all I know is hatred from your people directed towards my family and towards other non-Mashpee Indians. Undoubtedly this hatred was kindled by Jessie Little Doe Baird but I know for a fact that my family experienced hatred from every single one of you, whether we encountered you at Shaw's or at church. You called all of us wannabes. Since when did citizens of the Navajo Nation become wannabes? If your tribe disrespected someone's family members for decades, you cannot hope for their support. Maybe if you treat citizens of other Indian nations like your brothers and sisters and stop calling us wannabes, we will support you the next time around. This time, I will assert that all Cedric Cromwell is doing is having his eyes on money and working towards building a casino. Your formal tribal chairman was sentenced to prison, so how can we trust your current chairman? He too might end up in prison one day.
thechief's picture
Youre example of a dark skinned apache is flawed. Now if you were talking about an apache that was 1/128 apache and was 127/128 black, white and asian, that would be more accurate. I think we as tribes have to be careful in who we endorse as "tribes." Believe it or not their are alot of opportunists out there that discovered that they can get government aid, gaming money, tax exempt status, and other benefits by making up a tribe. I am especially suspicious when a tribe wants to get trust land for the sole purpose to build a casino on it. I think this is a greater threat to what we call "sovereignty." All it takes is a few scandals in these tribes that show they were made up or losely drawn up and you will begin to see terminations. Or, like I mentioned before. Who is to say Aztecs aren't going to want trust land in the American Southwest? I think La Raza has already brought this up.
softbreeze's picture
If we don't get the mainstream people to stop polluting the land, air, and water, it's not going to matter who gets it, because we're none of us are going to survive anyway.
rezzdog's picture
Chief, and why shouldn't Aztecs be allowed a piece of their homelands back? Really, once you pick up the term/label of Tribe (as the feds define it), one's collective goose is cooked. My point with the Apache example was to show how wrong blood quantum actually is. So, I will say it directly, the Tribal system is flawed, as is blood quantum as a determinate of "Indian-ness". Thinking in Indian (what ever indian means) is the platform, acting in Indian is the goal. So, you Chief don't want westerners/landed europeans to think in Indian? That is the equivalent of saying then, that no one has the right to think in Indian. But, isn't that what we say would save the world from western degradation? If westerners woke up one day thinking and acting like the pristine Indian everyone wants to be, including you Chief, then we would have gotten our prayers answered. Que no? When we adopt people into our Nation historically, they learned the language, learned the social norms and learned the ceremonies, the territorial boundaries and the economy and lastly they would relinquish all allegiance to their past sovereigns. It's called the process of naturalization. They would be adopted and nothing more would be said about this persons past life. What you propose is to end this long history and custom of adoption and naturalization. And, nothing can be more anti-native/us, than that thought process. That is all I am saying, the law is in the seed, not the blood.
starsong's picture
When we accept and respect one another, we honor Creator who put us all on this beautiful Earth, in this place and at this time -- together. Please, Friends, remember to be kind. -- Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
bintdeeb's picture
Greetings, thechief As problematic as the BIA can be (and as obnoxious as the whole idea of "federal recognition" is), it's rare that the Office of Federal Acknowledgement ever acknowledges an indigenous nation that doesn't deserve acknowledgement. On the contrary, on several occasions the OFA has kowtowed to political pressure and denied acknowledgement to several indigenous nation who really deserve it.