November 3, 2008
PROVIDENCE - The Supreme Court will decide whether the U.S. secretary of the interior can hold tribal land in trust under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, when the tribe was not recognized by the federal government until after 1934.
This specific case involves the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island, who purchased 31 acres in Charlestown in 1991 to be used be used for "economic development" and housing for the elderly and poor. While construction began on an elderly housing complex, the state sued to stop the tribe from placing the land into federal trust which would exclude it from most state and local laws. State officials feared the tribe would eventually build a casino or create a tax-free zone.
Today the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Several hundred other tribes that were recognized after 1934 will be affected by the outcome of this case. The Bush administration agrees with the tribe and argues the 1934 act allows it to take land into trust to benefit American Indians regardless of when their tribes were recognized. Twenty one states side with Rhode Island and want the Supreme Court to limit that authority arguing that states lose control over tribal trust land within their own borders.
The court will also decide whether a 1978 land settlement between the Narragansett and Rhode Island puts limits on new trust lands in the state.