U.S. Supreme Court

Status of Late-Recognized Indian Tribes at Issue in High Court Case


The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether the federal government can take land into trust for an Indian tribe, a move that could bar states from preventing the construction of additional Indian casinos on newly acquired land.

Indian Country Today says a ruling against tribal interests in the case could threaten the sovereign status of tribes that did not receive federal acknowledgment until after 1934, the year that the federal Indian Reorganization Act took effect.

The dispute involves the Narragansett Indian Tribe, which bought 31 acres of land in Rhode Island and sought to transfer it into a federal trust, the Associated Press reports. The state argues that the tribe is not authorized to transfer the land under the law because it did not obtain federal tribal status until 1983.

State officials fear the tribe wants to build a casino on the site and that the transfer into the trust could remove state authority to ban construction.

The Supreme Court agreed to consider two questions presented in the cert petition (PDF posted by SCOTUSblog), according to Indian Country Today. The first is whether the tribe is eligible to receive benefits under the Indian Reorganization Act even though it was federally recognized after the law’s passage.

The second is whether the Rhode Island Indian Claims Settlement Act, a federal law codifying a lawsuit settlement between the Narragansetts and the state, foreclosed the tribe’s right to exercise sovereignty over state land. The settlement gave the tribe 1,800 acres of land and in exchange, the tribe gave up aboriginal title to other state land and agreed to be subject to the state’s laws. The 31-acre parcel that is the subject of the Supreme Court case was purchased later.

The case is Carcieri v. Kempthorne.

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