U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS), joined by Senators Mark Begich (D- AK), Tom Udall (D-NM), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Patty Murray (D-WA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and John Walsh (D-MT), introduced bipartisan legislation (S.2188) to end the uncertainty and unnecessary litigation triggered by the U.S. Supreme Court's Carcieri v. Salazar decision.
The Carcieri decision stems from a challenge by the Governor of Rhode Island to the Secretary of the Interior's authority to take land into trust status for the Narragansett Indian Tribe under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA). In 2009, the Supreme Court held that the Secretary of the Interior did not have the authority to take land into trust for the tribe. This decision is creating delays in the processing of land-in-trust applications and in infrastructure and economic development projects across Indian Country, as well as numerous lawsuits.
"The Carcieri decision is crippling a key component of tribal sovereignty and economic viability while setting the stage for harmful court cases where only lawyers win," Chairman Tester said. "We need to come together, work across party lines, and solve this problem. This is a difficult issue, but we cannot hold these sovereign nations hostage to a decision that creates two classes of tribes and stalls economic development across Indian Country."
"It is unjust for there to be two classes of Indians created by the Carcieri v. Salazar decision--those tribes federally recognized in 1934 and those recognized after," said Senator Moran. "Tribes should no longer shoulder the burden of lawsuits and uncertainty that hinder their prosperity. The Secretary of Interior's authority to take land into trust for all tribes is essential for economic development."
The legislation reaffirms the Secretary's authority to take land into trust for tribes, regardless of when they were recognized by the Federal government. The Carcieri decision said that the rights of tribes created before 1934 were secure, while those of tribes who were recognized after 1934 can be perpetually challenged.
"Land is critical to making sure tribes can fully exercise their sovereignty," said Senator Heidi Heitkamp. "The Carcieri decision created additional barriers for our North Dakota tribes, preventing them from accessing funds to build homes, manage their natural resources, and promote tribally-owned businesses. This legislation is a step in the right direction for tribal economic development, and also acknowledges that it's only fair that every federally recognized tribe should have the ability to put land into trust."
"I have always said that I would support a sound Carcieri legislative fix that had strong support from tribal governments and the Administration," said Senator Begich. "I want to thank Chairman Tester for his leadership and I am proud to co-sponsor this clean fix that's good for Indian Country and has no Alaska carve-out."
President Brian Cladoosby, of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) said, "NCAI is pleased that Senators Tester and Moran have introduced a bill to address the myriad problems created by the Supreme Court's 2009 decision in Carcieri. The decision has caused significant uncertainty and confusion over legal jurisdiction, creating public safety problems and barriers to desperately needed economic development and job creation. The decision is a direct attack on tribal sovereignty and creates inequality among tribes. Because of the Carcieri decision tribes are also experiencing processing delays in trust land applications and seeing additional bureaucratic red tape for potential economic investors. NCAI looks forward to working with the Committee on correcting these wrongs and ensuring full protection of sovereignty for all tribes."