Law | National | Politics | Trust

Rep. Tom Cole takes another stab at addressing land-into-trust ruling






Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma). Photo: National Congress of American Indians

It's been nearly eight years since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its disastrous decision in Carcieri v. Salazar and Indian Country is still waiting for a fix.

In February 2009, the justices held that the Bureau of Indian Affairs can place land into trust only for those tribes that were "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934. The ruling has led to more litigation and bureaucratic delays for tribes whose federal status may have been unclear in 1934.

To address the situation, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) introduced two bills on the first day of the 115th Congress. One of them, H.R.130, provides a fix to Carcieri by confirming that the BIA can place land into trust for all tribes.

Tribes have long supported a "clean" fix to ensure that all tribes are treated equally, regardless of the date of federal recognition. But Congress has failed to pass a clean fix since 2009, as controversies about gaming seep into the debate.

With that in mind, Cole's second bill, H.R.131, represents a partial Carcieri solution. It merely reaffirms the status of land already placed in trust, preventing court challenges.

Congress embraced reaffirmation with S.1603, the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act, in 2014. The law ended litigation that kept the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians and the federal government tied up for years.

But even the more limited approach has run into problems on Capitol Hill. Last summer, Cole suffered defeat when his fellow Republicans removed his partial Carcieri fix from a spending bill.

"The possibility of litigation chills economic and infrastructure development on trust lands," Cole, who is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and one of just two members of a federally recognized tribe in Congress, said at the time.

H.R.130 and H.R.131 have been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, whose chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), led efforts against Cole's partial fix last year. The House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, which falls under Bishop's authority, hasn't convened a hearing on Carcieri since the 113th Congress.

Related Stories:
Interior Department touts tribal homeland efforts as Obama era comes to an end (01/05)
President Obama signs land bills for two tribes in Oregon into law (12/15)
Congress passes long-awaited land bills for two tribes in Oregon (12/06)
Oneida Nation wins another decision in long-running land dispute (11/10)
Alaska tribes enter new era with first land-into-trust application (10/20)
Obama administration fudges numbers to reach land-into-trust goal (10/12)
Tribes face uncertainty on land-into-trust as Obama era comes to a close (09/21)
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs schedules hearing on four bills (09/12)
Opinion: Alaska enters a new era with tribes and land-into-trust (08/29)
Osage Nation celebrates $74M acquisition of ancestral territory (08/25)
Alaska tribes enter new era as state drops land-into-trust battle (08/16)
President Obama endorses land-into-trust foe in Senate contest in California (07/19)
Rep. Tom Cole suffers defeat as land-into-trust fix goes down in House (07/13)
Controversial land-into-trust fix removed from appropriations bill (07/12)
Battle erupts over partial land-into-trust fix in appropriations bill (07/11)
Democrats embrace tribal sovereignty in platform for convention (07/08)
Tribes in Alaska celebrate long-awaited victory in trust land case (07/04)
Bureau of Indian Affairs still hoping to reach land-into-trust goal (06/30)
Partial land-into-trust fix being watched by non-Indian interests (06/27)
Another land-into-trust fix reportedly being drafted in the Senate (06/24)
Poarch Band seeks a partial Carcieri fix for existing trust lands (06/20)