Playing games at high levels

The Westerly Sun [RI]

THIS ISN’T HOW GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE, by the people is supposed to work. A bill making its way through Congress to ensure funding for federal spending through the remainder of this fiscal year includes a tacked-on provision that addresses the ability of Indian tribes to take land into trust and thereby confer all the rights that tribal sovereignty brings with such a designation.

The spending bill, passed by the House last Wednesday, is now before the Senate and will become law if passed before Congress adjourns for the year.

At issue — and tucked into a 423-page bill that includes continued funding for the war in Afghanistan and spending freezes for most Cabinet departments — is the so-called “Carcieri Fix” legislation. The “Carcieri Fix,” so named by tribal advocates, would reverse last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled tribes that gained federal recognition after 1934 are not eligible to take non-reservation land into trust. The decision came in the well-publicized case, Carcieri vs. (Interior Secretary Ken) Salazar that centered on the efforts of the Narragansett Indian Tribe in Charlestown to take 31 acres into trust. Land taken into trust is exempt from local and state laws, and the fear in Charlestown is that the tribe would build a casino on the land in addition to or instead of tribal housing as currently promised.

The nation’s highest court ruled on the issue after weighing evidence from both sides in the case, and now legislators debating a $1.1 trillion federal spending bill to keep the wheels of government running may void that decision?

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, of Connecticut’s Second Congressional District, just over the Rhode Island border and home to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos, summed it up nicely when he said, “It is disappointing that language overturning a Supreme Court decision is being included in a bill without even cursory debate. There were no hearings to include it in the [bill], no amendments and no consideration for opposing views. This language will give the Bureau of Indian Affairs sweeping annexation power, and the ability to override local interests without notice.”

Rhode Island taxpayers have voted against casino gambling more than once, and the U.S.
Supreme Court weighed the merits of a specific case involving the issue. Now a bill that has to do with the broad funding of federal departments and wars across the globe may overturn the will of local taxpayers and the high court?

That is government by gamesmanship, not by the people for the people.

Related: The Providence JournalNarragansett measure out of Senate bill :

WASHINGTON — The authors of a must-pass Senate spending bill have omitted any provision that would allow the Narragansett Indian tribe to secure coveted federal trust status for a parcel of their land.

The $1.27-trillion, catch-all Senate spending bill — circulated in draft form late Tuesday after weeks of negotiations — represents a setback for the Narragansetts and an advance for supporters of a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that denied them and numerous other tribes trust status, which generally exempts Indian lands from state and local laws and taxation.

The House’s counterpart spending legislation — a $1.09-trillion bill known as a “continuing resolution” — includes a measure that would effectively reverse the Supreme Court ruling that the Narragansetts were ineligible for the modern trust system, created in 1934, because they were not a federally recognized tribe at the time.

The Senate is considering an alternative type of spending measure –– the so-called “omnibus appropriation” –– that omits the language aimed at undoing the high court’s Indian land trust decision. That omission sets up a potential confrontation between the Senate, on one side of a key issue for Indian tribes across the country, and the House and the Obama administration on the opposing side…

Both articles H/T RI Statewide Coalition newsletter

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