Ruling limits federal government’s authority in holding land in trust

A U.S. Supreme Court decision on Tuesday limits the federal government’s authority when it comes to holding land in trust for Native American tribes.  

The ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar (Rhode Island Gov. Donald L. Carcieri and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar from Colorado) found that the federal government does not have the authority to place a 31-acre parcel into trust near Providence that belongs to the Narragansett Indian Tribe because the tribe was recognized after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. According to the tribe’s Web site, the Narragansetts received federal recognition and acknowledgement on April 11, 1983.    

According to the Supreme Court ruling, “Because the term ‘now under federal jurisdiction’ unambiguously refers to those tribes that were under federal jurisdiction when the IRA was enacted in 1934, and because the Narragansett Tribe was not under federal jurisdiction in 1934, the Secretary does not have the authority to take the 31-acre parcel into trust.”  

Attorneys for the U.S. government argued that the law lets it take land into trust for all tribes regardless of when they are recognized. At issue for the gaming industry is how the ruling will affect tribes recognized after 1934 that are currently, or in the future will be, attempting to put land into trust with the potential to establish gaming operations. A report in the Newsday newspaper of New York citing an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, a Colorado non-profit that provides legal representation to Indian tribes and supported the Narragansetts in their bid for federal recognition, said the ruling could affect dozens. Lawyers for Rhode Island believe several hundred tribes recognized after 1934 might now be unable to place new land into a federal trust without specific permission from Congress, according to the Newsday story.