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

Filed Under: Law | National | Politics | Trust
More on: 115th, bia, carcieri, h.r.130, h.r.131, hnrc, house, land-into-trust, republicans, rob bishop, supreme court, tom cole
     
   

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.

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