Mashpee Tribe Elects New Chairman, Land-in-Trust Fight Continues

By | May 19, 2021

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has a new leader. Brian Weeden, 28, was elected chairman of the Massachusetts-based tribe over the weekend, Cape Cod Times reports.

Mashpee
Mashpee Chairman Brian Weeden, seen here in a campaign video prior to his election at the weekend. (Image: YouTube)

He will also become the head of the Mashpee Gaming Commission. As such, he must decide whether to revive the tribe’s ambition of building the $1 billion First Light Casino.

Weeden is the tribe’s youngest-ever chairman. His predecessor, Cedric Cromwell, was removed from office last year after being indicted by a federal jury for an alleged bribery scheme related to the casino.

Cromwell had led the tribe since 2009, replacing Glenn Marshall, who was also charged with corruption, and served three years in prison for embezzling $400,000 from the Mashpee.

Weeden has promised to restore integrity to the tribe, as well addressing its dire financial situation.

Sun Sets on First Light

The tribe is $400,000 in debt to Malaysian casino giant Genting, which had agreed to finance the First Light casino and was bankrolling the tribal operations up until the casino project was shelved because of legal challenges.

In 2016, with Genting’s backing and a green light from the federal government, the tribe broke ground on the First Light. But a legal challenge financed by rival casino developer Neil Bluhm contended the Obama administration had been wrong to take the land into trust for the tribe.

At the time, Bluhm harbored ambitions to build a casino in Brockton, 15 miles away.

Ultimately a federal judge ruled that the decision to take land into trust for the tribe bypassed a Supreme Court ruling known as the Carcieri decision.  This held in doubt the US government’s ability to grant land in trust for tribes that were federally recognized after 1934, as was the Mashpee.

The decision was reversed, and the Mashpee was stripped not just of its ability to build the casino, but also of its sovereignty.

New Hope for Mashpee

Weeden makes no mention of the casino, at least according to Cape Cod Times’ account. But he did vow to “work on the tribe’s land-in-trust” status. Reaffirmation by the federal government of the tribe’s reservation as trust land would be a precursor for the revival of the casino project.

That has a better chance of happening under the Biden administration than the previous one. There is a movement in Congress led by Massachusetts Democrats to pass legislation to restore Mashpee lands.

The tribe’s predicament may also be improved by the appointment of Deb Haaland as the first Native American US Secretary of the Interior. Haaland’s Interior Department decides land-in-trust applications from federally recognized tribes.

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