The U.S. Supreme Court case Carcieri v. Salazar, which blocked off-reservation land claims by tribes recognized after 1934, offended many in Indian Country. They rushed to Congress to seek legislation that would reverse the decision, and were assured that it would be handled. But a year later nothing has been accomplished and nothing is on the horizon.
“I know that they want something done in this Congress,” said Matthew Thomas, chief sachem of the Narragansett tribe. “But when it’s going to happen is anyone’s guess.”
The “Carcieri fix” would reverse the decision that Narragansetts were not eligible for special federal trust status for a parcel of land they own in Rhode Island because they were not a federally recognized tribe in 1934, when Congress passed the Indian regulatory law encompassing the modern land-trust system.
An informal “Carcieri summit” was held in Washington, D.C. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, told the group that legislation is ready but no floor action is scheduled in either the Senate or the House.
Leaders of 17 tribal organizations presented Dorgan with a letter warning that if the Carcieri decision “is not addressed immediately, there will be irrevocable damage done to tribal sovereignty, tribal culture and the federal trust responsibility.”
Dorgan said the Supreme Court decision “unfairly created two classes of Indian tribes, those who can take land into trust and those who cannot.”
Rhode Island officials and local representatives oppose the “fix,” which “will allow the Narragansetts to take any land in the state that they or their chosen financial partner wants to buy” and establish enterprises outside the reach of local zoning rules, taxes and other regulations, Joseph S. Larisa Jr., the assistant solicitor who represented Charlestown in the Carcieri case, said.
Many senators have also come out in opposition to the measure, including both Rhode Island senators, Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse.
Reed said the bill would have better prospects “if there were a way to take gambling off the table,” but conceded that supporters of tribal sovereignty would likely not want to limit development on what they would consider Indian land.