Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010 To End Without Congressional Approval To Fix Tribes' Ability To Add To Reservation Land

Feather News

Almost two years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government can no longer increase the size of Indian reservations for tribes "not under federal jurisdiction" after 1934 and all congressional attempts to fix that court ruling by re-writing the law have failed.

The authority of the federal Department of the Interior to take land into trust as reservation land on behalf of tribes was turned on its head in 2009 when the State of Rhode Island argued that the 1934 law that authorized the federal government to take land into trust for tribes should only apply to tribes under federal jurisdiction as of the date that 1934 law was enacted. Since the Narragansett Tribe was not recognized by the federal government until 1983 and it was not shown that the Tribe was otherwise under federal jurisdiction before the 1934 law was enacted, the State of Rhode Island claimed the Secretary of Interior had no authority to add a parcel of land in Charlestown, R.I., to the Narragansett's reservation. The Supreme Court agreed.

Since the ruling in that case, Carcieri v. Salazar (Carcieri is the governor of Rhode Island and Salazar is the Secretary of the U.S. Interior Department), tribes have advocated a simple change to the law that would allow all federally recognized tribes to increase their land bases.

President Obama publicly supports such a 'fix' but Congress would not take up the amendment this week. Many in Congress are concerned that a simple 'fix' does not address what some legislators see as a troubling problem: tribes that seek to add land that is not close to their reservations for the purpose of building casinos in strategic locations. For that reason, a simple fix will likely not be so simple.