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Appeals court rules in 'reservation shopping' dispute
Monday, November 17, 2003

A federal appeals court on Friday upheld the Bush administration's decision to take land into trust for a landless tribe in northern California.

The 3-0 decision marked the second time this year that the courts have upheld acquisitions for landless tribes. In both cases, the tribes had their federal status terminated, then later restored, by the United States.

These tribes qualify for exemptions from costly and lengthy reviews by federal bureaucrats. But as part of a growing campaign against "reservation shopping," critics say tribes aren't entitled to land away from their current location. Tribes, they say, are using loopholes to open casinos in more lucrative areas.

The campaign has had mixed success. Casino opponents have been able to delay land-into-trust decisions throughout the country but have never been able to overturn one.

At the same time, the critics have been getting more attention in Washington, D.C. Republican lawmakers inserted language into an appropriations bill suggesting that restored tribes should not be given a break on land acquisitions. President Bush signed the bill into law last week.

Friday's ruling shot down some of the main arguments of the "reservation shopping" campaign. Two cities in Placer County said the United Auburn Indian Community should not be allowed to seek 49 acres outside the boundaries of its former reservation as the reservation existed in 1967, the date of federal termination.

But a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed this claim as "nonsensical." "The Maidu and Miwok Tribes from which the Auburn Tribe descended once occupied much of central California," wrote judge Judith W. Rogers for the majority. "For the cities to now argue that the 49 acres are a windfall, as if the tribe's ancestors had never possessed any more, is ahistorical."

The court went further and said that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which contains the exemption for restored tribes, is not as limiting as the critics contend. Tribal lands can exist beyond reservation boundaries, the court opined.

"Given the history of Indian tribes' confinement to reservations, it is not reasonable to suppose that Congress intended 'restoration' to be strictly limited to land constituting a tribe's reservation immediately before federal recognition was terminated," Rogers wrote.

The language in the Department of Interior's appropriations act runs counter to this interpretation. It singles out two tribes for seeking trust lands out of "their traditional service area[s]" and says local communities and the state governor should be consulted on all land acquisitions. Normally, restored tribes aren't subject to these requirements, which often spell death for casino projects.

In a related case, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on August 6 affirmed a land-into-trust ruling for the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, another restored tribe. Before the decision was handed down, two Democratic lawmakers authored a bill that would have forced the tribe to submit to more reviews at the local, state and federal level.

The United Auburn Indian Community, a small tribe of 225 members, opened its casino in July. The facility has done better than expected, bringing in an reported $75.8 million in the first quarter of operation.

Get the Decision:
City of Roseville v. Norton (November 14, 2003)

Related Decisions:
Artichoke Joe's v. Norton (August 6, 2003) | Artichoke Joe's v. Norton (July 29, 2002)

Relevant Links:
United Auburn Indian Community -

Related Stories:
Northern Calif. casino doing better than expected (11/10)
Goodies for some in Interior's budget bill (11/6)
Congress clears Indian funding in budget bill (11/4)
Calif. tribe moving forward with urban casino plans (10/10)

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