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Reversing trust land decision is Obama administration's top priority for Indian Country

Interior Department official joins U.S. Rep. Tom Cole in calling for a “fix” to a Supreme Court decision that has kept some tribes from acquiring land to be held by federal government. Cole, R-Moore, is an Oklahoman and a member of the Chickasaw Nation.
BY CHRIS CASTEEL ccasteel@opubco.com Published: October 14, 2011
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The Supreme Court decision, they said, has spawned confusion and lawsuits and a burdensome process at the Interior Department for determining whether some tribes were under federal jurisdiction in 1934.

The case is not expected to have much impact in Oklahoma, but Cole, the only enrolled member of an Indian tribe in Congress, has become an advocate for American Indian issues nationwide.

At the hearing, Cole asked Echo Hawk to rank the trust land issue in terms of the administration's priorities for tribes.

“This is the top priority here that we're talking about,” Echo Hawk replied.

Some of the resistance in Congress to reversing the Supreme Court decision stems from concerns about Indian gaming. Last year, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, argued that a provision Cole wrote to reverse the ruling would lead “to a major expansion of gambling.”

Cole has disputed that contention numerous times and said Thursday that 95 percent of the pending 2,000 requests for trust land are for nongaming purposes.