MIL-OSI USA: House Advances Bill to Reaffirm Tribal Trust Agreements

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Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04)

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04), Congresswoman Betty McCollum and Rep. Sharice Davids issued the following statements after the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4352, to reaffirm the trust status of tribal trust lands. Cole and McCollum are the original sponsors of the bill.

Introduced in the House every Congress over the last decade, the legislation ensures that existing tribal lands continue to be held in trust by the federal government, reaffirms the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for Indian Tribes and removes the uncertainty and ambiguities inherent within the Carcieri v. Salazar opinion.

“More than a decade ago, the Supreme Court issued an opinion that jeopardized ownership of tribal trust lands, questioned the authority of the Secretary of Interior and reversed 75 years of precedent,” said Cole. “While a permanent solution is still needed, I am proud the House has supported legislation to keep the promises made to tribes, respect their sovereign status and validate the status of tribal lands acquired in trust by the Secretary of Interior.”

“Tribal Nations should not be discriminated against because of their date of federal recognition,” McCollum said. “That date has no bearing on their existence as sovereign nations – and so it should have no bearing on their right to reestablish their homelands. All federally recognized Tribal Nations must have the same right to place land into trust to support the needs of their communities and strengthen their self-governance. This bill affirms congressional intent that the Indian Reorganization Act authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to place land into trust for all federally recognized Tribal Nations, regardless of their date of recognition. As Members of Congress, it is our duty to honor the federal government’s trust and treaty responsibilities, safeguard and empower Native American communities, and protect their treaty rights, lands, assets, and resources now and for generations to come. I thank my colleagues for joining me to finally fix this grave injustice.”

“Tribal homelands are a critical piece of tribal sovereignty and self-determination, and we have an obligation as the federal government to uphold our trust and treaty obligations—including taking land into trust. The misguided Supreme Court Carcieri decision made it difficult for Tribal nations to rebuild their tribal homelands, build infrastructure, and grow their economies, but today we have moved towards rectifying that damage,” said Rep. Sharice Davids (KS-03). “The bill passed today provides equal treatment to all federally recognized tribes and returns to the original intent of the Indian Reorganization Act. I thank my Congressional Native American Caucus Co-Chair Tom Cole and our Caucus Vice Chair Betty McCollum for leading this effort.”

A member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, Cole has led as Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus since 2009 and currently leads alongside Davids, who is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation. McCollum is a long-time member and Co-Chair Emeritus of the caucus.

Background

On June 18, 1934, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) to protect tribal sovereignty and to help restore lands to tribes. For 75 years, all federally recognized tribes had the right under IRA to request that land be placed into trust for their nations by the Secretary of the Interior. Accordingly, tribes have used their trust lands to build community facilities like schools, health clinics and tribal housing to serve their tribal members. This land has also been used for tribal enterprises and to promote economic development in communities that are often underserved and poverty stricken.

In 2009, however, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that long-established precedent in Carcieri v. Salazar. In addition to generating expensive litigation for certain tribes, the Carcieri decision caused uncertainty and unequal treatment among federally recognized tribes, operating on existing tribal trust lands.

Since the 2009 opinion, members in both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation to restore the original intent of IRA. Passage today marks the first time a fix has advanced out of the House.

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Ahead of passage, Cole made the following remarks on the House floor. Video is available above and here.

Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.R. 4352, by my good friend Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota. I am proud to co-sponsor that legislation that amends the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and reaffirms the right of the Secretary of the Interior to place land into trust for federally recognized Indian Tribes.

Madam Speaker, as I am sure most people in the House know, the history and relationship between the United States and Indian tribes is not something to always be proud of. And frankly, with the passage of the Dawes Act in 1887, tribes all over the country, but particularly in my state of Oklahoma, were systematically stripped of their land and individual tribal members were as well. I know this because my tribe was one of the victims. My family were some of the losers in the process. 

In 1934, the federal government wisely saw that it made a bad mistake, intervened with the Indian Reorganization Act to protect the remaining Indian lands and to allow modest additions and reacquisitions to that land. And for 75 years, it worked pretty much the way it was supposed to work. Whether it was a Democratic or Republican administration, land was protected and modestly brought back into trust, only 9 million acres so far since 1934. So, it is not as if we have had a large transfer of land back. We have protected what was there and added back to tribal patrimony where it made since.

All of that was upset by the Carcieri v. Salazar decision in 2009. And that was a really bad decision, quite frankly. And it did, as my friends from Minnesota and New Mexico pointed out, upset the balance, create a two-tier system and penalize tribes that had not been federally recognized in 1934. That, by the way, wasn’t just “new tribes.” A lot of them – the case was based on Narragansett in Rhode Island – had actually been around for a long time. The Narragansetts have been in the same place they always were. They were recognized by the state of Rhode Island, but for some reason were not in the 1934 bill.

So, a lot of people have been victimized by this, and frankly, a lot of interest in trying to exploit it. We have had the opportunity on a couple of occasions to fix it. Actually, this House should be proud. In December of 2010, an amendment to an appropriations bill, actually supported by my good friend Ms. McCollum, it was my amendment, we got it out of the House, but it died in the Senate that same December.

As my friend from Minnesota alluded, we passed legislation in the last Congress to deal with this issue on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote. I will just say for the record, I have introduced legislation on this every year since 2009. My friend Ms. McCollum has done pretty much the same, and we have always co-sponsored one another’s legislation. So, I am very proud to be here and support her.

I urge passage of this bill. It is a matter of justice for the tribes, but it is also a matter of equity and a matter of, frankly, legislative convenience. So, Madam Speaker, I strongly support my friend’s bill, H.R. 4352, and urge its passage and yield back. 

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