Echo Hawk 'strongly supports' fix to land-into-trust decision

The Obama administration "strongly supports" a fix to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk said on Wednesday.

Testifying on Capitol Hill, Echo Hawk stressed the importance of placing land into trust for tribes. He said the Supreme Court decision, issued in February 2009, "disrupted everything."

"It affects housing, it affects law enforcement, it affects emergency services, it affects economic development," Echo Hawk said at a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee.

Echo Hawk's comments came on the day that a fix was introduced in both the House and the Senate. The fix ensures that all tribes, regardless of the date of federal recognition, can follow the land-into-trust process.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), the only Native American in Congress, sponsored a bill to fix the decision in the 111th Congress. It passed the House but didn't clear the Senate due to controversy over Indian gaming.

Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, isn't listed as a co-sponsor to H.R.1234, the bill introduced yesterday. But he asked Echo Hawk whether the Obama administration will support a fix that excludes Alaska Natives.

"Would that cause you guys any problems?" Cole said at the hearing.

Echo Hawk said existing federal regulations bar the BIA from approving land-into-trust applications for Alaska tribes. But he said the administration hasn't developed a position on legislation that might exclude a particular group of tribes.

"We'd like to have a discussion with you on that because we're working on something like that," Cole responded, indicating that he might sponsor a different version of the fix. "We're trying to make this something that doesn't cause anybody a problem."

Alaska is home to more than 200 federally recognized tribes. But the Supreme Court's 1998 decision in Alaska v. Venetie effectively halted land-into-trust in Alaska except for one tribe whose reservation was created by Congress in 1891.

The Obama administration has repeatedly said it supports a "clean" fix, meaning a fix that doesn't address other issues like gaming or exclude certain tribes.

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

Related Stories:
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)
Land-into-trust fix in limbo amid dispute on appropriations bill (12/17)

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