Land regulations targeted for withdrawal
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Despite a concerted effort by tribal leaders, the Department of Interior is moving to repeal a set of land-into-trust regulations finalized during the Clinton administration.

In a document published in today's Federal Register, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb proposes to withdraw the regulations. He will take public comments during the next 30 days on whether he should scrap the rules altogether and replace them with a new set.

McCaleb's decision, which was announced on Friday, marks the third time the Bush administration has delayed the regulations. As soon as President Bush was inaugurated in January, they were pushed by back two months.

Secretary Gale Norton in April then decided her staff needed more time to review them. She reopened the comment period for 60 days and received 192 submissions, which her staff spent another 60 days reviewing.

According to the Interior, a wide variety of opinions were expressed on the rules, which define a set of standards by which the government will take land into trust for tribes. Tribal governments, state governments and other interested parties suggested they be revoked, changed slightly or be accept as-is, said the Interior

But rather than simply amend them or repeal them without additional consultation, the department has decided to seek even more input. As it considers whether to drop them, the department will be looking at a number of issues raised during the past four months.

"Even though many comments suggested amending only certain parts of the final rule, the Department finds that it may be impracticable and inefficient to repeal only part of the final rule," reads the published notice signed by McCaleb.

First proposed in April 1999, the rules seek to clarify how the Secretary of Interior takes land into trust for tribes. Tribal leaders have long complained about the length of the process, which can take up to three years, and welcomed a provision requiring the Bureau of Indian Affairs to make a decision within 120 days of receipt of a land-into-trust application.

The National Congress of American Indians had worked closely with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, spending "countless hours" to develop them, said Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Chairman Tex Hall, one of the lead proponents on the issue. In June, NCAI, the nation's largest and oldest organization of tribal governments, called on tribal leaders to make sure the department wouldn't delay them yet again.

"The issue of land into trust has been given full and fair consideration by the Department and further delay would be unfair and unwarranted," said NCAI.

But a number of states and local governments had voiced objections. Officials in Connecticut who sued to prevent the Interior from taking land into trust for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation welcomed the additional delay to the rules.

"We welcome the opportunity to provide public comments," said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on Friday.

According to the BIA, there are more than 1,330 pending land-into-trust applications. Submitted by a number of tribes throughout the country, they represent nearly 800,000 acres of land.

At about 430,000 acres, the most common use proposed for the land is agricultural. At about 315,000 acres, governmental purposes, such as tribal offices, follows.

Economic development uses make up 23,000 acres of the requests. Residential purposes make up about 21,000 acres of the pending applications.

Tribes lost 90 million acres of land between 1887 and 1934, when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed. The law sought to stop the destructive policy of allotment by authorizing the Secretary of Interior to take land into trust for tribes.

Since then, the Interior has taken just about 8 million acres of land into trust.

Get Today's Notice:

Get the Previously Finalized Regulations:

Relevant Links:
Land into Trust, National Congress of American Indians -
Land into Trust, NCAI 2001 Resolution -

Related Stories:
Supreme Court turns down Pequot land case (5/1)
Norton delays land-into-trust regulations (4/16)