House approves bill to reaffirm tribal trust agreements

Pictured: Representative Tom Cole (OK-04). Cole testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous People of the United States during a legislative hearing that included consideration of H.R. 375. Cole is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and has led as Co-Chair of the Native American Caucus since 2009.(Image: screenshot from YouTube video "Rep. Tom Cole offers testimony during H.R. 375 hearing" - Lisa J. Ellwood, Press Pool Manager, Indian Country Today)

H.R. 375 ensures that existing tribal lands will 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

News Release

Office of Representative Tom Cole (OK-04)

Office of Representative Betty McCollum (MN-04)

Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) and Congresswoman Betty McCollum (MN-04) issued the following statement after the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 375, 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, and for other purposes. Cole and McCollum are the original sponsors of the bill.

Introduced in the House every Congress since 2011, the legislation ensures that existing tribal lands will 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.

“Despite a misguided Supreme Court opinion 10 years ago that jeopardized ownership of tribal trust lands and questioned the authority of the Secretary of Interior, I am encouraged progress has been made to reverse it and rightly restore 75 years of past precedent,” said Representative Cole. “While the federal government and tribal nations have at times had a battered and troubled relationship, this legislative action in the House symbolizes desire to keep the promises made to tribes, respect their sovereign status and repair damage done.”

“Today, the House voted to ensure that we are able to fulfill one of our country’s most sacred commitments to tribal nations,” said Representative McCollum. “This legislative fix will make it clear that the federal government’s ability to restore tribal homelands extends to all 573 federally recognized tribes, and I am honored to have worked hand-in-hand with Representative Cole to lead this effort.” 

Prior to today’s vote, Cole testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous People of the United States during a legislative hearing that included consideration of H.R. 375. Cole’s remarks are available below.

Cole is a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and has led as Co-Chair of the Native American Caucus since 2009. 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 the Indian Reorganization Act 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.

Comments