Rhode Island Tribal Gaming
The Narragansett Tribe of Indians has made multiple attempts over the past 20 years to open a casino in the state.
In 1991, it purchased 31 acres of land and applied to have it put into trust.
In 1998, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) placed the land into trust, but the state appealed this decision, citing the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA).
Among other provisions IRA gives authority for the federal government to take land into trust, for tribes that are “now under Federal jurisdiction.”
The state of Rhode Island argued that IRA specifies land-into-trust decisions could only apply to tribes that received federal recognition in and prior to 1934. Since the Narragansett Tribe of Indians did not receive federal recognition until 1983, the state contended, the BIA did not have jurisdiction to take the 31 acres into trust for the tribe.
The case went through several courts of appeal (in 2003, 2005, and 2007) before arriving at the US Supreme Court, in Donald L. Carcieri, Governor of Rhode Island v. Ken L. Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, et al. In each of the earlier hearings, the court ruled in favor of the Department of the Interior and the tribe.
The Supreme Court, however, determined the language in the IRA was clear in reference to which tribes could receive land into trust and therefore upheld the state’s assertion to reverse the Narragansett Tribe of Indians’ land-into-trust determination.
The 2009 Supreme Court ruling spawned the "Carcieri fix" to amend the IRA to reaffirm the BIA’s authority to take land into trust for all federally recognized Indian tribes, regardless of when they were recognized. This has failed passage in the last three US legislative sessions and has been reintroduced in 2013.
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