RCRC supports positive county-tribal relationships through an effective federal policy structure, and advocates for the inclusion of counties in decision-making regarding the taking of land into trust for tribes (Fee-to-Trust) and during the tribal acknowledgement process.
On February 24, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Carcieri v. Salazar (Carcieri) decision, which struck down the Secretary of Interior’s ability to take land into trust on behalf of tribes that were not federally recognized at the time the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 went into effect. Carcieri effectively outlawed the pre-existing system of Fee-to-Trust, invalidating all trusts taken for any tribe acknowledged after 1934. RCRC believes a new Fee-to-Trust system should be created that not only aides those tribes left in an untenable situation, but create a practical process by which counties have a seat at the decision-making table.
Furthermore, RCRC believes the pre-Carcieri system of Fee-to-Trust regulations was insufficient and inappropriately implemented. RCRC continues to advocate that a “quick fix” bill to effectively overturn the Carcieri decision (i.e., eliminate the pre-1934 requirement) without additional changes will cement counties’ position of having no voice and no input on major land-use changes in their communities.
Recent legislation in Congress has attempted to address several of the issues counties have identified in a new Fee-to-Trust system. These include ensuring a local government voice, mitigation of land-use impacts and clarifying timeframes for responses. RCRC believes that counties should have access to judicial review, and a definition of “jurisdiction” should be made that allows counties to comment on certain trust applications. RCRC has been actively engaged in advocating for legislation which strengthens and improves the position of counties in the Fee-to-Trust process.
RCRC also believes that it is critical that any new Fee-to-Trust process closely mirror the new federal acknowledgement process and incorporate a high level of local government involvement, such that the two are in sync with each other as they are implemented to avoid confusion which could lead to conflict between local governments and tribes.
Staff: Paul A. Smith