Tribal Leaders Held Successful Rally to Enact Carcieri Fix Legislation During Lame Duck Session >>

November 21st, 2010

Tribal Leaders Held Successful Rally to Enact Carcieri Fix Legislation During Lame Duck Session

On November 18th, the National Congress of American Indians and the United South and Eastern Tribes held a Tribal Leaders Rally to Protect Tribal Homelands to urge enactment of legislation to address the February 24, 2009 decision of the United States Supreme Court in Carcieri v. Salazar. This decision represents a direct attack on a core aspect of tribal sovereignty — the ability of Indian tribes to restore their homelands. As Congress enters the end of its lame duck session, enactment of legislation to address this decision is one of Indian country’s highest priorities. A number of Members of Congress addressed tribal leaders at the Rally, including Congressman Dale Kildee, Founder and Co-Chair of the Native American Caucus, and expressed their strong support for passage of this legislation this session. Also, that day tribal leaders had productive meetings with 50 plus congressional offices and agencies to discuss the need to pass this legislation.

In Carcieri, the Court overturned 75 years of practice under both Republican and Democrat Administrations in finding that the Indian Reorganization Act authorized the Secretary of the Interior to place land into trust for only those tribes “under federal jurisdiction” as of 1934. The decision creates many more questions than it answers. As of 1934, no federal laws or regulations define the phrase “under federal jurisdiction.” In addition, in 1934, the United States was ending a 50-year period of allotment and assimilation during which the federal government did all it could to destroy the governing structures of Indian tribes, including the suppression of tribal cultures and the forced placement of Indian children in boarding schools where they were forbidden to speak their languages or practice their Native religions.

Since its issuance 20 months ago, Indian country has experienced widespread negative impacts from the Carcieri decision. It has placed an informal administrative freeze on the land-into-trust process, which is used to restore tribal homelands for elder housing, health care and educational facilities, youth recreation centers, and other essential government services. The decision has deterred investment and economic development throughout Indian country because potential investors in the current fragile economy are reluctant to finance projects in light of legal uncertainties. The decision threatens reservation public safety by potentially opening up past criminal convictions based upon the fact that they occurred on Indian lands.

In addition, the decision has spawned at least a dozen federal court challenges that are multiplying to existing and pending tribal land-into-trust determinations. Many of these lawsuits are being defended by the United States Department of the Interior at taxpayer expense and are working their way through the Federal court system back to the United States Supreme Court, which could result in additional attacks on tribal sovereignty and self-governance.

To address these serious problems, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Congressmen Dale Kildee (D-MI) and Tom Cole (R-OK) introduced legislation in the 111th Congress that would reaffirm the Secretary’s authority to place land into trust for all federally recognized tribes. Tribes nationwide are united behind these bills. In July of this year, 21 intertribal organizations signed a letter to President Obama and Congress, urging them to enact legislation this session to reverse the Carcieri decision.

This past July, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously included an amendment of Congressman Cole in the FY11 House Interior Appropriations bill that would reaffirm the Secretary’s authority to take land-into-trust for all federally recognized tribes.

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