Massachusetts Tribal Casino Project Hits a Snag due to Land Ownership Disputes

Two native tribes from New England have found themselves amidst an altercation over the ownership of a 300-acre parcel of land one of them wants to use to erect a $1 billion casino resort. The piece of land is located to the south of Massachusetts’ state capital Boston, in Taunton. The federal government had originally given the land to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal nation, which intends to use it for the construction of a casino-hotel complex.

A new contender for the land has now appeared in the face of the Mattakeeset Massachuset nation whose members insist they are the rightful owners, based on documents from the colonial period. The group’s claims were dismissed by Steven Peters, spokesperson for the Mashpee.

The Mashpee tribe received federal recognition in 2007 and numbers approximately 3,000 members, the spokesperson said. By contrast, the Mattakeeset has several hundred members and is currently unrecognized by the US government, continued Mr. Peters.

Another Obstacle in the Mashpees’ Plans for Tax-Exempt Tribal Casino

The claims of the Mattakeesets are the latest obstacle in the year-long efforts of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to obtain a federally protected reservation and start a tax-exempt gambling operation on its territory. The tribe was originally promised 300 acres of land toward the end of President Barack Obama’s administration.

The succeeding administration of President Trump then made moves to cancel the decision but the revocation was prevented by a federal judge. This was later appealed by the Interior Department.

The Chief Sachem of the Mattakeesets, Mr. Larry Fisher, referred to a book by Jeremy Bangs, who founded the Dutch Leiden American Pilgrim Museum. In the book, it is stated that a piece of land known as the “Titicut Reserve” has been exclusively designated to the tribe by a deed that dates back to 1664.

According to said deed, the designated land encompasses the territories of present-day Middleborough, Bridgewater, and Taunton, along with sections of Duxbury. The Commission on Indian Affairs is yet to officially weigh in on the matter but its Executive Director and Mashpee tribal member, Mr. John Peters, questioned the claims of the Mattakeesets.

Mr. Jeremy Bangs, who penned the book Larry Fisher referred to, insisted his publication was not intended to safeguard the interests of the Mattakeesets or any other tribe. The colonial documents he wrote about in his book are readily available at the Plymouth registry of deeds, he said.

The Casino Project Entails over 3,000 Slots and 150 Table Games

The Mashpee spokesperson, Mr. Peters, admitted neither he nor his fellow tribal scholars are acquainted with the book in question for the time being. He stressed the Mashpees have invited Chief Sachem Fisher to discuss evidence that the land belongs to them.

Said evidence comes in the form of over 14,000 pages the Mashpees have provided to the government in their trust application. Chief Sachem Fisher denies one such proposition was made to him despite his repeated attempts to organize a meeting with the leaders of the rival tribe.

The land dispute comes after the Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman was arrested in November on charges of extortion and bribery, related to the gambling project of the tribe. The plans entail a massive complex with 3,000 slot machines, 150 table games, and around 40 poker tables, in addition to restaurants, parks, and two resort towers, each one containing 300 rooms.

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