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Press Release

Attorney General Urges Congress To Reform Annexation, Leave In Place Court Ruling Requiring Congressional Approval For Post-1934 Tribes To Add To Reservations

November 4, 2009

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal today urged Congress to reform the federal land annexation process to make it fairer and more responsive to citizens, and leave in place a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring congressional approval for Indian tribes recognized after 1934 to add land to their reservations.

In testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Blumenthal blasted the BIA annexation process as fatally flawed and unfair to states and local communities that lose tax revenue and control over property added to a reservation. He said congressional approval for post-1934 tribes is a fairer, more open process enabling the interests of all to be heard and considered.

The court ruled in Carcieri vs. Salazar that the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) only allows tribes recognized by the federal government as of 1934 to annex land through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) administrative process. Tribes such as the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan recognized after 1934 may still add to their reservations by an act of Congress.

Blumenthal said lawmakers should overhaul the BIA annexation process to make it fairer and more open or abolish it and have Congress decide all Indian trust land applications. He urged better standards for deciding trust land applications and requiring BIA to immediately provide states and local communities with trust land applications and backup materials.

"I urge the committee to take no further action regarding the decision -- while reforming the process for taking land into trust for pre-1934 tribes and requiring congressional approval for post-1934 tribes," Blumenthal said in his testimony.

"Even as it leaves Carcieri vs. Salazar in place, Congress should reform and clarify existing laws and procedures for taking land into trust. Lawmakers should determine whether the current system -- authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to determine when and whether to take lands into trust on behalf of a Native American tribe recognized prior to 1934 -- is still necessary to achieve the original goals of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). Congress should either reform the administrative process in order to achieve fair and equitable decisions regarding trust lands for these tribes or repeal the Act, thereby establishing for pre-1934 tribes the same Congressional trust approval as post-1934 tribes.

"The United States Supreme Court's decision in Carcieri vs. Salazar recognized Congress' 'plain and unambiguous' intent that the Indian Reorganization Act ("the IRA") permit the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust only on behalf of Indian tribes federally recognized at the time of the IRA's 1934 enactment.

"The Court's decision was not only consistent with the IRA's plain language, but also with the Act's broader purpose, namely, to help remediate the negative impact of pre-1934 federal policies and bureaucratic failings on tribes under federal jurisdiction at the time. Tribes recognized after 1934 are unaffected by the failed federal policies the IRA was intended to correct.

"Instead of righting injustices visited upon federally recognized tribes before 1934 -- as Congress rightly intended -- extending this law to tribes recognized after that date threatens to create new injustices against local communities and states. Allowing post-1934 tribes to use IRA to take land into trust twists congressional intent, giving tribes never wronged by the previous federal policy a super-weapon that unfairly denies their non-Indian neighbors the ability to effectively contest such decisions.

"Critical decisions should remain with Congress -- as representatives of the people -- rather than an appointed individual, ensuring that state and local communities have a voice and real input in the process. Congress is uniquely able to balance the interests of the state and local governments against those of the tribes, in a process that is transparent, accountable, ensures input from all affected parties and reflects a consensus among tribes, states and local communities."