PHOENIX – Two little words is all it would take to protect tribal trust land, and the National Indian Gaming Association is urging the federal government to adopt them.
In a resolution to provide a “Carcieri fix” to a controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision, NIGA members passed a resolution asking the federal government to either delete the phrase “now under federal jurisdiction” from the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, or add the words “or hereafter” after the word “now.”
NIGA members, in addition to networking, hearing keynote speakers, attending workshops and award banquets, adopted a number of resolutions during the association’s annual Indian Gaming Trade Show & Convention in mid-April.
Among the most pressing issues facing tribal nations across the U.S. is the high court’s February ruling in Carcieri vs. Salazar. Interpreting the word “now” in the 1934 IRA to mean then – 1934 – the high court ruled 6 – 3 that the Interior Department could not take 31 acres of land into trust for the Narragansett Tribe, because the tribe was not federally recognized in 1934.
The ruling has raised a myriad of questions about the meaning of “under federal jurisdiction,” the ability of tribes to take land into trust in the future, the status of tribal land that has been taken into trust since 1934, and the potential for legal challenges to those lands.
NIGA members voted unanimously to adopt a resolution “To Call Upon the United States to Defend All Indian Trust Lands of All Indian Tribes from Any Third Party Claims and to Seek Legislation to Address the Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar.”
Among its many whereas clauses, the resolution notes that the Carcieri decision overturns 75 years of administrative practice, and that U.S. sovereign immunity protects land that the U.S. holds in trust from third party challenges.
The resolution calls on the federal government to “vigorously defend” all Indian trust lands of all Indian tribes from any third party claims based on “its sovereign immunity, plaintiffs’ lack of standing, statute of limitations, the constitutionally based jurisdiction of the United States over Indian affairs and the historical fact that all Indian tribes (regardless of when officially recognized under contemporary law) existed prior to the United States.”
The resolution calls for “agency bureaucrats” to be reined in and prohibited from creating “any lists that suggest certain Indian tribes were not under federal jurisdiction and protection in 1934.”
In addition to amending the 1934 act with the two little words or deletion of the phrase “now under federal jurisdiction,” the resolution asks the federal government to ratify any trust lands that were established since 1934.
Members also adopted a resolution “to support the passage and full funding of the Tribal Law and Order Act.”
The act was originally introduced last summer, but failed to pass Congress. In early April, the act was re-introduced by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and U.S. Representative Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, D-S.D.
The act, which aims to strengthen law enforcement and justice in Indian communities, “is designed to boost law enforcement efforts by providing tools to tribal justice officials to fight crime in their own communities, improving coordination between law enforcement agencies, and increasing accountability standards,” the resolution says.
It also says that the act will enhance coordination between the Justice Department, BIA and tribal communities about the investigation and prosecution of Indian country crimes, and “encourage more aggressive prosecution of reservation crimes at the federal level.” The reluctance of federal law enforcement to prosecute is one of the major law enforcement and justice problems in Indian country.
“Between 2004 and 2007, the United States declined to prosecute 62 percent of Indian country criminal cases referred to federal prosecutors, including 72 percent of child sexual crimes, and 75 percent of adult rape cases,” the resolution says.
Current law limits tribal courts sentencing authority to one year. The proposed act will increase the authority of tribal courts to sentence offenders for up to three years in prison.
The act will also allow tribal police to make arrests for all crimes committed on Indian lands and provide tribal law enforcement personnel direct access to national crime databases.
NIGA members also adopted a resolution “To Support Legislation Establishing Native American Heritage Day on the Friday After Thanksgiving In Honor of the Achievements and Contributions of Native Americans to the United States.”
The resolution notes that Native American tribal governments developed the fundamental principles of freedom of speech and separation of powers that provided a model for the U.S. government itself.
“The Founding Fathers came to the Six Nations Confederacy in New York to learn about their unique system of democratic confederacy, which divided powers among the branches of government and provided a checks and balances,” the resolution says.
The resolution outlines the “distinct and important contributions’ Native Americans have made to the country and the world in agriculture, medicine, music, language, the arts, and as inventors, entrepreneurs, spiritual leaders, scholars and athletes.
According to the resolution, Native American Heritage Day will encourage self-esteem, pride and self-awareness in Native Americans about the significant role their ancestors and heritage have played in the formation of the freest country in the world, the United States, and. … will allow Americans of all backgrounds to demonstrate their respect of and admiration for Native Americans for the richness of their contributions to the political, cultural and economic life of the United States.