WASHINGTON — A U.S. senator wants to clear up confusion created by a Supreme Court decision regarding American Indian land. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-S.D., introduced legislation aimed at clarifying the 1934 law that allowed the Secretary of Interior to take land into trust for tribes.
A high court decision issued early this year in a Rhode Island case has raised questions about all land taken into trust for tribes that weren’t federally recognized before the 1934 law was enacted. Dorgan, chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, said the decision could wreak havoc if Congress doesn’t act. Some experts have said that land taken into trust by the United States would be protected from lawsuits even if the tribes weren’t recognized and that only pending or future land-into-trust actions would be subject to legal challenge. Dorgan’s legislation would ratify all trust acquisitions made by the secretary for the past 75 years. And it would reaffirm the secretary’s ability to accept land for Indian tribes regardless of when they received federal recognition. Dorgan’s committee and the House Natural Resources Committee have held hearings on the Supreme Court case, addressing how Congress should respond.