Last year when U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington took over the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on
Indian Affairs from retiring Senator Daniel Akaka of Alaska,
Indians were hopeful that their No. 1 cause, a legislative “fix”of the 2009 Supreme Court’s Carcieri v. Salazar decision, would be enacted.
They were disappointed. Now Cantwell is set to leave her position as chairman of the committee and hand it over to another senator.
The controversial court decision, almost universally reviled by tribal leaders across the country, says that tribes recognized after the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 cannot put land into trust.
Upon taking the chairmanship of the committee, Cantwell began developing a strategy for bringing the “fix” to a vote, something that Akaka tried unsuccessfully to do before he retired. In February of last year she declared that the “fix” needed to pass to ensure economic security for tribes.
Without legislative action, the court decision created two classes of tribes, she said. She made deals with many fellow senators and tribal leaders as she tried to bring the issue to a vote.
Tribal leaders pressed her to adopt as her touchstone a bill that passed the Democratic House in 2010, just as it was getting ready to hand over power to the GOP.
Since then, Republicans and a significant number of Democratic lawmakers have tied any support for a Carcieri fix to changing the process for putting land into trust, specifically for making it harder to put land off the reservation into trust for casinos.
During 2013, Cantwell came up with a draft bill that included a higher threshold that tribes had to meet before getting an off-reservation casino. It also included a provision that virtually shut the Narragansetts out of the game forever. This is at odds with Cantwell’s earlier pledge not to create a two-class system of tribes.