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Indian Nations Update - January 2010

January 19, 2010

Carcieri Fix Bill Approved by Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
In February 2009, the Supreme Court held in the Carcieri case that only tribes "under federal jurisdiction" on June 18, 1934, the date that the Indian Reorganization Act become law, could apply to have land taken into trust by the Secretary of the Interior. (See G&K's February Update). Senate Bill 1703, introduced by Senator Dorgan (D-N.D.) would amend the IRA to permit any federally-recognized tribe, regardless of date of recognition, to apply to have land taken into trust, effective "as if included in the [IRA] on the date of enactment of that Act." A companion bill, H.R. 3697, was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Cole (R-OK). On December 17th, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved S. 1703. Whether the bill will make it to the floor of the Senate in the 111th Congress is unclear. The House Natural Resources committee has not yet considered H.R. 3697.

Parties Agree to Settlement in Cobell v. Salazar; Deadline for Congressional Action Extended
On December 7, 2009 the plaintiffs and the federal government reached a settlement in the long-running lawsuit Cobell v. Salazar. This lawsuit began in 1996 when the plaintiffs filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against the federal government. The plaintiffs alleged the federal government breached its trust responsibility and mismanaged the Individual Indian Money accounts. Among other things, the settlement establishes a $1.4 billion fund to distribute funds to class members as compensation for historical accounting claims and establishes a $2 billion fund for the purchase and consolidation of highly-fractionated land interests. The settlement money will come from the Judgment Fund maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice. The settlement must be endorsed by the federal court and Congress must enact authorizing legislation for implementation of the settlement agreement. The original deadline for congressional action was December 31, 2009, but this has been extended to February 28, 2010 in the wake of a contentious pre-recess schedule.

Godfrey & Kahn Shareholder Testifies before Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
On December 9, 2009 the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing to review the status of the Department of the Interior's backlog of fee-to-trust applications and the impact it has on Indian tribes. Godfrey & Kahn shareholder Carl Artman testified at the hearing, offering his unique perspective as both the former Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs and a former tribal chief counsel. His testimony highlighted the four systemic changes he made while at the Department to expedite and create efficiencies in the fee-to-trust process. The changes included 1) quantifying and qualifying fee-to-trust applications, 2) manifesting the declared prioritization of completion of the trust application in annual performance goals for all employees in the process, 3) development of the Fee-to Trust Handbook to create consistency and efficiency for all tribes, and 4) addressing unique problems in the process with unique solutions. Mr. Artman recommended these managerial changes be continued. In addition, he recommended that tribes make a strategic determination regarding trust land decisions, noting that economic development may still occur on lands not in trust and Chairman Derek Bailey of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Skibine, and Deputy Direct Forrest also testified at the hearing.

 

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