Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, second from right, greets tribal citizens in Salt Lake City, Utah, on December 4, 2017, the day President Donald Trump dismantled the Bears Ears National Monument. Photo: Tami A. Heilemann / U.S. Department of the Interior
Litigation | Opinion

Kirsten Matoy Carlson: Trump team actually does something right for tribal lands


The Trump team is under fire for adding more hurdles to the cumbersome land-into-trust process and advancing other controversial policies that go against tribal interests. But maybe the new administration just needs more encouragement to do the right thing, professor Kirsten Matoy Carlson argues, citing the federal government's favorable stance in an important tribal homelands case that will be decided by the nation's highest court:
Tribes take land into trust to preserve their cultures, develop economically, provide housing and social services, and protect the environment. For example, the Gun Lake Band has used the lands taken into trust to build the Gun Lake Casino and to host traditional community activities, including pow wows and Anishinaabe language classes.

While some may criticize tribes for gaming, casinos often generate jobs and economic benefits that extend to local communities. In the first six months of 2017 alone, the Gun Lake Band shared $6.7 million in casino revenues with state and local governments. Local public schools have used this money to fund activities, averting the threat of instituting a “pay-to-play” athletics program.

Despite these benefits, not everyone supports taking land into trust. In 2008, David Patchak, who lives three miles from the Gun Lake Casino, challenged the trust acquisition for the Gun Lake Band, claiming that the casino harms his rural lifestyle. After the Supreme Court allowed Patchak’s case to go forward in 2012, the band and the secretary of the interior turned to Congress. Congress affirmed the trust acquisition by the Secretary and removed the matter from federal court jurisdiction.
Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: U.S. Supreme Court Oral Arguments in Patchak v. Zinke November 7, 2017

Arguments about whether in doing so Congress was catering to a special interest group, or whether the tribes are a special interest group, are irrelevant here. This is how our system works: Congress makes the laws and courts enforce them. Congress cannot tell the courts how to rule in a particular case. But it makes laws and can take away the jurisdiction of the federal courts, which is what it did here.

Read More on the Story:
Kirsten Matoy Carlson: Protect American Indians (The Detroit News December 7, 2017)

U.S. Supreme Court Documents:
Oral Argument Transcript | Docket Sheet No. 16-498 | Questions Presented

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Patchak v. Jewell (July 15, 2016)

U.S. Supreme Court Decision:
Patchak v. Jewell (June 18, 2012)

Prior D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Patchak v. Salazar (January 21, 2011)

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