The Supreme Court’s decision in the recent Carcieri v. Salazar case urgently needs to be corrected. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which I chair, heard ample evidence of that in a formal congressional hearing in May and at numerous meetings the committee conducted in the wake of the decision.
I have introduced legislation to fix the impact of that ruling. The bill would free countless tribal economic development and housing projects and other important initiatives from the legal limbo to which the court’s decision assigned them.
In its Carcieri v. Salazar ruling, the Supreme Court declared that the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 limited the secretary of the Interior’s authority for taking land into trust for Indian tribes. The court said the law gives the secretary authority to do so only for tribes recognized as of 1934. That’s not what Congress intended. Then, as now, all tribes should be treated equally when the secretary of the Interior makes decisions about placing land into trust for tribal governments.
The secretary has been exercising his authority as intended by the Indian Reorganization Act for the past 75 years. Without correction, economic development and housing projects, and a host of other important work underway, and even projects already completed, on Indian lands taken into trust for tribes recognized after 1934 may be in legal jeopardy.
The project that launched the Carcieri v. Salazar case is a good example of the ramifications of this decision, if the ruling is allowed to stand.
The Narragansett Tribe in Rhode Island was recognized by the federal government after 1934. Two-thirds of its reservation cannot be developed, so when it needed to build 50 homes for tribal elders, it purchased 31 acres of additional land. The secretary of the Interior accepted that land into trust for the tribe.
It was the legitimacy of that action – accepting the land into trust – which the Rhode Island governor asked the court to review. The senior citizen housing project is now in jeopardy thanks to the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the 1934 law.
The quickest way to correct this is to enact legislation that restores congressional intent and ensures that all tribes, regardless of when they were recognized, are treated the same with regard to the secretary’s authority to take land into trust.
That is the sole intent and effect of the bill.
Some claim the legislation opens the door for tribes to take land into trust without review and to establish casino gaming operations whenever and wherever they wish; it does no such thing. It does nothing to change the federal regulations that govern land into trust decisions by the secretary of the Interior or the federal laws and regulations regarding establishing gaming operations on Indian lands.
My bill has one aim and one effect: To restore congressional intent and fair treatment for tribes on decisions by the secretary of Interior regarding taking land into trust.
– Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
Chairman United States Senate
Committee on Indian Affairs