An appropriations bill adopted by the U.S. House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee last month contained a measure that would “fix” the Supreme Court decision Carcieri v. Salazar that is so disliked by many tribes. The court’s decision limited land-into-trust applications to tribes that were federally recognized before 1934. The remedy would make all tribes, regardless of the date of the recognition, eligible to enter into the process.
“Today’s action is a significant step forward for this important legislation,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), the only Native American member of Congress, said last month. “Without this language, the standard set forth in Carcieri v. Salazar will be devastating to tribal sovereignty and economic development.”
The pertinent passage in the appropriations bill amends the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 by replacing the phrase “any recognized Indian tribe now under federal jurisdiction” with “any federally recognized Indian tribe” in the section that authorizes the Interior Department to acquire land for tribes.
“Resolving any ambiguity in the Indian Reorganization Act is vital to protecting tribal interests and avoiding costly and protracted litigation,” Cole said.
The prospects for the bill in the Senate are murky, however.
John Tahsuda, vice president of consulting firm Navigators Global, stopped short of predicting the amendment, as included in an appropriations bill, will meet with success in the House and Senate.
“This amendment is a significant step toward a legislative fix for the Carcieri decision,” Tahsuda, a Kiowa-Comanche, told Gambling Compliance. “However, in this election year climate it is not yet clear how this Congress will enact its appropriations bills.”
Jana McKeag, another Washington, D.C.-based consultant who works for tribal interests, was also downbeat about passage.
“It is great legislation and it’s likely to be well received in the House, but my concern is it will get stuck in the Senate side,” McKeag advised Gambling Compliance. “It might pass the House but there are a number of governors, attorney generals and others who want to hold up tribes who want to take land into trust for gaming.
“The sad thing is this decision holds up a lot of applications to place land into trust for all types of businesses and things like schools and health clinics. It places tribes recognized after 1934 in a kind of limbo status.”