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Supreme Court ruling may impact Wisconsin casinos

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March 10, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC - The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the Secretary of the Interior has no authority to place land into trust for Indian tribes unless the tribes were federally recognized in 1934. Their decision is based on the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934 that authorizes the Secretary to take land into trust for members of tribes that are "now under Federal jurisdiction."

Before any Indian casino can be built, its land must be transferred into federal trust. This process returns the land to tribal sovereignty and removes it from state jurisdiction and taxation.

Two Wisconsin tribes owning casinos were formally recognized by the federal government after 1934: The Mole Lake Chippewa Indians were recognized in 1937 and the Ho-Chunk tribe in 1963.

Madison attorney Glenn C. Reynolds, who represents the Mole Lake Chippewa, does not believe the tribe is directly affected. He explains that, while the Mole Lake Chippewa were not federally recognized in 1934, they are not a separate tribe. They are one band of the Lake Superior Chippewa tribe, which has been recognized since 1837. Reynolds says the court's decision should not prevent placing land into federal trust because the Chippewa are one tribe, with many bands in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan, and they have always been recognized that way.

The Ho-Chunk Tribe has not issued a legal opinion on the Supreme Court ruling.

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