Supreme Court upends tribal and federal understandings of IRA

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WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court has ruled in Carcieri v. Salazar

that tribes not under federal jurisdiction as of 1934 cannot follow a

longstanding land into trust process administered by the U.S.

Department of the Interior. The ruling, which results from a suit

involving the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island, is at odds

with many tribal, federal and legal understandings of the Indian

Reorganization Act.

Tribal

and federal lawyers said the decision will likely lead to legal

questions over the validity of tribal lands taken into trust by the

interior for tribes since the IRA was passed in 1934. And tribes not

acknowledged until after 1934 with pending or future fee-to-trust

applications will now have to prove they were under federal

jurisdiction in 1934.

The decision could result in several

states filing lawsuits trying to gain lands that have been taken into

trust for dozens of tribes recognized after 1934. Such attempts would

likely prove unsuccessful, as lawyers have noted that the federal Quiet

Title Act does not allow challenges to federal land acquisitions after

the fact, except in limited circumstances that do not appear applicable

in this case.

In Carcieri, Rhode Island did not want

the Narragansett Tribe, recognized in 1983, to be able to utilize 31

acres of land placed into trust by the interior. The tribe said it

wanted to use the land to create a housing development, but state

officials expressed concern that it could pursue a casino in the future.

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Read the actual Supreme Court Ruling (PDF)