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Support a Carcieri Fix and Aboriginal Lands Protection

I recently went to Washington, D.C. to support legislative efforts to clarify the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take lands into trust for all federally-recognized Indian tribes; or what is commonly referred to as a “Carcieri fix.” The National Congress of American Indians and the United South and Eastern Tribes organized a rally and meetings with members of Congress to urge them to address the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in the Carcieri v. Salazar case where the Court held that the Secretary of the Interior could only take lands into trust for tribes that were “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934.

The event was mostly positive and productive. I was troubled, however, by the significant misperception conveyed to members of Congress that tribes who oppose certain off-reservation gaming projects also oppose a Carcieri fix. In fact, some were surprised to learn that the Gila River Indian Community supports a Carcieri fix since we are actively opposing efforts by another tribe to conduct off-reservation gaming within our aboriginal territory.

Every tribe should support a Carcieri fix. I am not aware of any tribe that opposes one or advocates that a Carcieri fix must also include an off-reservation gaming prohibition. I can only assume that those tribal leaders and members of Congress under this belief have received misinformation from lawyers, lobbyists and gaming developers.

Addressing the Carcieri decision has nothing to do with off-reservation gaming. And failing to address Carcieri will result in two classes of Indian tribes; something we all should oppose. It is unfair for the press to try and connect a Carcieri fix to off-reservation gaming, and it is unfair for certain tribes and their lobbyists and lawyers to do the same.

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The Gila River Indian Community is in the troubling position of having to fight against encroachment by another tribe into our aboriginal territory. This is not a position we enjoy having to take or want to take. But all tribes have the sovereign right to protect their aboriginal lands from others. Our efforts to protect our aboriginal lands have nothing to do with our support for a Carcieri fix. Those suggesting otherwise are hampering the larger effort and creating an unnecessary tension between tribes.

Tribes may not agree on off-reservation gaming, but we should all be able to agree on fixing the Supreme Court’s decision in the Carcieri case. There are members of Congress who strongly oppose any more lands being taken into trust for tribes, and some who simply oppose off-reservation gaming. Their views are not new, and will continue to exist regardless of whether a Carcieri fix is passed by this Congress. Tribal leaders need to work together, in an inclusive manner, to right the wrong perpetrated by the Supreme Court’s Carcieri decision.

Joseph Manuel is Lieutenant Governor of the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona.