Law | Politics | Trust

Supreme Court decision impacts land-into-trust process at BIA

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar has affected the land-into-trust process for all tribes, a top Bureau of Indian Affairs official said on Tuesday.

The decision states that the BIA can only acquire land for tribes that were "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934. As a result, all tribes -- even those with established treaties and a long relationship with the U.S. -- must submit information that shows they meet the requirement, principal deputy assistant secretary Del Laverdure told the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.

"This analysis is done on a tribe-by-tribe basis; it is time-consuming and costly for tribes, even for those tribes whose jurisdictional status is unquestioned," Laverdure said in his written testimony.

"Overall, it has made the [Interior] Department’s consideration of fee-to-trust applications more complex," he added.

Since the Obama administration came on board in January 2009, the BIA has approved about 450 land-into-trust applications. The Supreme Court decision was issued in February 2009, so the ruling has affected every acquisition.

Of the approvals, four were applications from tribes whose federal status in 1934 required a detailed analysis under the Supreme Court ruling, Laverdure said. One of those -- for the Cowlitz Tribe of Washington -- is already being litigated.

Additionally, the BIA facing 10 more lawsuits due to issues raised by the ruling, Laverdure said. That makes a fix to the decision even more critical, he told lawmakers.

Most members of the subcommittee support a fix to ensure that all tribes can follow the land-into-trust process. But non-Indian witnesses urged lawmakers to revamp the BIA's standards and criteria, something the Obama administration opposes.

"We simply want a clean and simple Carcieri fix," Laverdure told the subcommittee. "We do not support any deviations from that."

H.R.1291 and H.R.1234 are nearly identical. But H.R.1291 includes language that bars Alaska tribes from following the land-into-trust process.

BIA regulations already include a prohibition on Alaska tribes except for the Metlakatla Indian Community.

Get the Story:
Wampanoag tribe urges land be taken into trust (The Cape Cod Times 7/13)
Panel considers reversing Supreme Court on tribal land trusts (The Riverside Press-Enterprise 7/13)

Committee Notice:
Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Legislative Hearing on H.R. 1291, H.R. 1234 and H.R. 1421 (July 12, 2011)

Supreme Court Decision:
Syllabus | Opinion [Thomas] | Concurrence [Breyer] | Dissent [Stevens] | Concurrence/Dissent [Souter]

Related Stories:
Audio from House subcommittee hearing on land-into-trust fix (7/12)
Witness List: House subcommittee hearing on land-into-trust (7/11)
Subcommittee to hold hearing on land-into-trust fix on July 12 (7/5)
Tribes press for fix to land-into-trust ruling at nation's capitol (06/27)
Witness List: Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on IRA (6/21)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on 75 years of IRA (6/13)
Tribes to rally in Washington for fix to land-into-trust ruling (6/7)
Rhode Island governor opposes fix to land-into-trust decision (4/11)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee approves land-into-trust fix (4/8)
Rep. Cole introduces fix to Supreme Court land-into-trust ruling (4/4)
Echo Hawk 'strongly supports' fix to land-into-trust decision (3/31)
Bills introduced to fix Supreme Court land-into-trust decision (3/31)
White House aide vows support for fix to land-into-trust decision (3/1)

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