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Carcieri fix in play

WASHINGTON – A move to provide a legislative resolution to the controversial Carcieri v. Salazar Supreme Court decision has cleared the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

On Dec. 17, the committee approved a bill – S. 1703 – which would affirm the authority of the secretary of the Interior Department to accept land into trust for Indian tribes recognized after 1934. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., also offered an amendment to the bill, which calls on Interior to determine the exact number of tribes affected by the decision. The amendment, too, was approved by the committee.

The overall legislation is aimed at curbing the effects of a decision made by the Supreme Court in February, which has restricted Interior’s ability to take land into trust for tribes federally recognized after the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

When Congress passed the IRA, it authorized the secretary of the Interior to accept lands into trust for Indian tribes “now under federal jurisdiction.” The Supreme Court ruled that the language prevented the secretary from accepting land into trust for tribes federally recognized after the law’s passage, which it has done many times.

Tribal leaders, the Obama administration, and many members of Congress have already voiced support for a legislative fix.

Kimberly Teehee, White House senior policy advisor for Native American Affairs, said all tribes should be able to benefit from the land into trust process regardless of their date of federal recognition. Teehee is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

Despite the positive movement in the Senate, action hasn’t proceeded as quickly on the House side, where representatives have been pondering two bills, H.R. 3742, sponsored by Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., which would amend the IRA to reaffirm the authority of the secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for Indian tribes, and H.R. 3697, sponsored by Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., which has a nearly identical intention. Cole is a member of the Chickasaw Nation.

While several members of the House Natural Resources Committee agreed at a Nov. 5 hearing that there must be a Carcieri fix, there was some caution expressed by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who stated opposition to a “fast track” land into trust legislative solution. He wanted to hear from state and local governments before taking action.

Some states’ rights advocates and others have taken strong stances against a legislative fix, fearing the consequences of more lands going back to tribes.

No action has been made in the House. For a Carcieri fix to become law, both the House and Senate would have to approve legislation, and President Barack Obama would have to sign it into law.