Law | Politics | Trust

Rep. Young offers explanation for inaction on land-into-trust fix






Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, speaks to the National Congress of American Indians earlier this year. Photo from Rep. Don Young

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) today reaffirmed his support for a bill to fix the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar but he indicated that the matter is out of his hands for now.

Young serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. The panel has jurisdiction over Indian issues and has two Carcieri fixes -- H.R.666 and H.R.279 -- before it.

During the 112th Congress, Young held hearings on the bills to fix the decision. But he said his Republican superior on the House Natural Resources Committee is calling the shots in the 113th Congress.

"I support the fix for Carcieri but I am not chairman of the full committee," Young said today. "If you ever get a chance to be in the majority again you will find out what I'm talking about."

Young's comments came after Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-California) questioned why the subcommittee hasn't held a hearing on H.R.666 and H.R.279. He noted that the measures have bipartisan support.

"Any member of Congress that is in favor of economic certainty and job creation must be in favor of solving the problems the Carcieri decision created," Ruiz said.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Washington) serves as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee but is retiring at the end of the 113th Congress. When he was in the minority during the 111th Congress, he raised concerns about prior versions of the Carcieri fix.

In February 2009, the Supreme Court held that the Indian Reorganization Act only allows the Bureau of Indian Affairs to approve land-into-trust applications for tribes that were "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934, the year the law was passed. The meaning of that phrase, however, was not defined so the decision has created uncertainty and has spawned more than a dozen new lawsuits.

Fixing the decision is relatively simple but efforts to address the ruling have been clouded by gaming and other controversies. In the meantime, the Supreme Court further muddied the ground with its June 2012 decision in Salazar v. Patchak.

The court opened the door for just about anyone -- state and local governments or private citizens -- to sue over a land-into-trust decision. They can even do so long after land has been placed in trust -- in the Big Lagoon Rancheria case, the state of California challenged a trust acquisition from 1994.

S.1603, the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act, addresses the situation for the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatami Indians of Michigan, the tribe that was at the center of the Patchak case. The bill reaffirms the status of the tribe's existing trust lands to prevent further litigation.

The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent on June 19. But unlike the Carcieri fix, Young indicated there is no holdup on this measure.

"As far as the Gun Lake Tribe, we're going to move that pretty quick and solve that problem," Young said today.

The discussion about the Carcieri fix can be found on the Indianz.Com Sound Cloud. Ruiz speaks at approximately 6.27 and Young responds at approximately 7.42.

Committee Notice:
Legislative Hearing on H.R. 3229, H.R. 4546, H.R. 4867, and S. 1603 (July 15, 2014)

Related Stories:
Senate Indian Affairs Committee approves five bills at meeting (06/11)
Dave Palermo: Lobbyists battle on fix to land-into-trust ruling (4/30)
Law Article: DOI takes diligent approach with land-into-trust (03/19)
DOI addresses Carcieri land-into-trust decision in legal opinion (03/13)