It is 4 p.m on a Friday during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mashpee Wampanoag tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell, hears his phone ring. On the other line is the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, he thinks it’s a check-up on how his tribe is doing during the pandemic. But instead, the BIA told him that the government would be rescinding the reservation designation of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and removing their land from the federal trust. The order came from David Bernhardt, who is the U.S Secretary of the Interior.
After 12,000 years of living on their traditional homelands, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is at risk of losing their reservation status of the 300 acres they have been left with, and there is an urgent need for support and solidarity. This threat also arrives after 400 years of colonization wherein the tribe has already suffered from the devastating impact of European settlers. Additionally, this is all happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time of severe illness reminiscent of diseases that were brought to this country not long ago..
A Brief History
In the winter of 1620, the Mayflower docked at an abandoned village which had been known in the traditional Wampanoag language as Patuxet. The village was abandoned because the Mayflower pilgrims were the first settlers/colonists to reach its shores, and those settlers came off their ships carrying an infectious disease called Leptospirosis. They likely contracted the disease from the black rats that lived on their ships, and consequently infected and killed millions of Native Americans.
Leptospirosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that is spread by rat urine and its symptoms include yellowing of the skin, pain, cramping, and bleeding. Unlike the settler-colonists, the Native Americans did not have immunity and It is estimated that between 1616 and 1619 nine out of ten coastal Native Americans were killed in the epidemic.
It is cruelly ironic that today on the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is facing the COVID-19 pandemic, at the same time as their tribal sovereignty being taken away. For reservations, there is already a desperate struggle in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, colonization has left many reservations with high poverty and unemployment rates, a lack of clean drinking water and electricity, and extreme health disparities.
If the decision is allowed to stand, Cromwell shared it:
“would destroy much of what the tribe has worked to build in recent years on its sovereign land.”
This includes the establishment of an independent judicial system, police force, Wampanoag-language school, as well as the beginning of construction on a roughly 50-unit tribal housing development.
Standing right there with the Mashpee Wampanoag, are the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska; who are awaiting trial, McGrit v. Oklahoma. The U.S Supreme Court will hear this case on April 21 and decide whether much of their reservation and land will continue to be rightly sovereign.
A message from the Mashpee: We are the land. We are the Mashpee.
CALL TO ACTION:
Please sign the Land is Sacred: Stand With the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe petition and stand with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe.
Lastly, we want to share a prayer with you all.
“In our story of Creation, we talk about each one of us having our own path to travel, and our own gift to give and to share. You see, what we say is that the Creator gave us all special gifts; each one of us is special. And each one of us is a special gift to each other….”
— John Peters (Wampanoag)