Courtesy Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
SCIA Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) and vice chairman Jon Tester (D-MO) both introduced a Carcieri fix, with Tester later pulling his in support of Barrasso’s.

USET Gives a Tentative Thumbs Up to Barrasso’s Carcieri Fix

Gale Courey Toensing

There’s a new “Carcieri fix” in town and a leading tribal organization has provisionally approved it.

The United South and Eastern Tribes, which represents 26 tribal nations along the eastern and southern sea coasts said in a statement that S. 1879, the Interior Improvement Act, “would achieve a major USET goal, which is to overturn the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Carcieri v. Salazar.”

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced S. 1879 at a SCIA business meeting July 29, saying that the bill “dramatically improves the Department of the Interior trust land acquisition process for Indian tribes.“

At least a dozen Carcieri fix bills have been proposed since the high court rendered its decision on February 24, 2009, but none of them gained enough traction to move forward. The ruling said that the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act authorized the Secretary of the Interior Department to take land into trust only for “any recognized Indian tribe now under Federal jurisdiction.”

“That holding had the effect of establishing a class of tribes that could no longer take land into trust, while creating uncertainty with regard to the status of current tribal trust lands,” USET said.

Barrasso said that his bill, in addition to codifying and streamlining portions of the land into trust process, bill restores the Interior Secretary’s authority to take land into trust for all federally recognized tribes and reaffirms the status of Indian lands already taken into trust. “This bill clarifies existing law and streamlines outdated, cumbersome, and costly land into trust processes within the Department of the Interior,” Barrasso said. “It is the result of significant work and collaboration, and I want to thank all the members and stakeholders for their contributions to this effort.”

SCIA Vice-Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) withdrew his own Carcieri fix proposal from consideration at the meeting. Tester had introduced S. 732 – A bill to amend the Act of June 18, 1934, to reaffirm the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for Indian tribes – last March.

Echoing USET’s statement, Tester said he believed tribes have always wanted two things in a Carcieri fix: “A reaffirmation of the past land into trust decisions which will provide certainty to tribes for their existing lands and reaffirmation of the Secretary’s authority to take land into trust for all tribes, with an emphasis on all…. Now I am still reviewing your bill, Mr. Chairman, but I believe it maintains those two goals.”

Tester urged the committee to move forward with the bill only after tribes have an opportunity to read it and weigh in. “On this particular issue, we have had a number of hearings. I am not sure that we need another one on Carcieri. We know the issue, we know it well and if we can get a bill moving I think that is a high priority,” Tester said. 

UET highlighted other positive aspects of Barrasso’s bill. “Of great importance to USET, the Barrasso legislation does not ‘carve out’ any tribes, nor does it introduce gaming provisions which are not part of this issue. Finally, it does not give counties a veto power over land into trust decisions, something the counties have sought. It does provide for additional notice to counties and it does encourage tribes and counties to enter into cooperative agreements, although it does not mandate them.”

In addition, Barrasso’s bill includes notice requirements to contiguous jurisdictions, mandates also the Secretary to consider the anticipated economic impact of approving an application on contiguous jurisdictions and requires the Secretary to “give weight and preference to an application with a cooperative agreement with contiguous jurisdictions.”

USET said it will continue to review the bill’s language “to fully understand its potential impact and effect on the ground. Additionally, during this time we will be advancing further dialogue with tribal leadership and our partners across Indian country to gather broader perspective and thoughts.

The tribal organization expressed its appreciation to Barrasso and for “working together in a bi-partisan fashion in order to achieve a Carcieri fix once and for all.”

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