Friday, May 1, 2009

Connecticut Attorney General And Others Don't Want A Quick Fix To Supreme Court Ruling

By Ken Davison
Feather News

Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal and the attorneys general from 16 other states do not want Congress to rush into writing new laws that would undermine a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that restricts many Indian tribes from having land taken into trust by the federal government.

In that case, (Rhode Island Governor) Carcieri v. (Secretary of the U.S. Interior Department) Salazar, the Supreme Court overturned a 1934 law that allowed the federal government to take land into trust as reservation land for all federally recognized Indian tribes. The decision still will allow the US Department of the Interior to take land into trust for Indian tribes recognized as of 1934 but the court decision will affect dozens of tribes that became federally recognized after 1934.

The attorneys general sent a letter to the chairmen of the Senate Indian Affairs Comittee and the House of Representative's Committee on Natural Resources asking that Congress not rush into a legislative fix for that Supreme Court ruling. The attorneys general said in the letter that "the goal of any legislation should be to craft a workable process that allows all interested parties an opportunity to be heard. The process used to draft any legislation must include all of the stakeholders in order to reduce the potential for disputes and further litigation."

The court case involved 31 acres in Charlestown, R.I., that the U.S. Department of Interior took into trust on behalf of the Narragansett Tribe. Once land is taken into trust by the federal government on behalf of an Indian tribe, the land can no longer be taxed and will not fall under the regulatory laws of state or local governments unless an agreement between the state and the tribe allow for compliance with state laws.

Since the Narragansett Tribe was federally recognized in 1983, the Supreme Court ruled they were not covered by a 1934 law called the Indian Reorganization Act, which was the law that gives the Department of Interior the authority to take land into trust for Indian tribes. Since Congress agreed to a settlement act with the Mohegan Tribe that expressly permitted the Tribe to add land until the Tribe reaches its 700-acre settlement area limit, it should not affect the Mohegan Tribe until after the 700-acre limit is reached. The 158-acre Fort Shantok property is not included in the 700-acre limit. Currently the Mohegan Tribe's Reservation includes about 350 acres, not including Fort Shantok or property owned by the Tribe but not yet taken into trust.

Two days after the Supreme Court's 6-3 ruling in Carcieri, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal noted that neither the Mohegan Tribe or Mashantucket Pequot Nation were federally recognized in 1934 and that the court decision “effectively prohibits the Mohegan and Mashantucket tribes from annexing land outside their settlement areas. The Supreme Court decision leaves intact the existing reservations, because both were created by acts of Congress."

Besides the attorney general from Connecticut, other New England state attorneys general signing the letter were those from Rhode Island and Massachusetts.