U.S. Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, both of Arizona, both Republicans, have introduced a bill that would prevent the Bureau of Indian Affairs from taking “off-reservation” land into trust. McCain and Kyl are concerned about a recent BIA decision that allowed the Tohono O’odham Nation to acquire land in Glendale, Arizona, far from its Tucson-area reservation, to build a casino, over the objections of the city, county, state and surrounding tribes.
The bill is called the “Off–Reservation Land Acquisitions Guidance Act” and is similar to two proposed amendments to a Department of the Interior appropriation act introduced separately in the House.
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Virginia) was one of the first to comment: “These amendments are an assault on Indian Country, attacking the land-into-trust mechanism established to ensure that tribes who suffered for centuries at the hand of the U.S. government receive some measure of compensation for their loss. They should be defeated, and if they come up for a vote this fall I will work to try and stop them.”
The bills are so toxic to Indians that the National Indian Gaming Association has sent out alerts to its members to marshal support for a counter-attack.
One amendment, by Rep. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), would prevent the BIA from increasing the net amount of federal land under its jurisdiction, and would, according to NIGA, immediately stop all land-to-trust applications.
A second amendment, by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pennsylvania), would prevent tribes from using money gained from land claims to acquire land to be used for a casino, which is something that only two tribes, one in New York and the other in Oklahoma, have done.
The McCain bill would prevent the BIA from putting land into trust if it is not within “reasonable commuting distance” from the tribe’s reservation, i.e., it would restore a Bush administration rule that the Obama administration just eliminated.
McCain’s bill would greatly increase the ability of state and local governments to oppose such an off-reservation application, which critics derisively call “reservation shopping.”
The bills appear to be a reaction against bills being proposed that would “fix” the 2009 Carcieri vs. Salazar U.S. Supreme Court decision that said that tribes recognized after 1934 cannot put land into trust.
McCain said the Carcieri issue is very controversial to Senate Republicans, and demonstrates that it may be hard to separate the issue of gambling from the Carcieri issue. This, despite the fact that of pending land-into-trust applications, only 1.5 percent involve gaming.