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In a bipartisan and bicameral move, lawmakers in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives today reintroduced legislation to amend the Act of June 18, 1934 — known as the Indian Reorganization Act.

This legislation, which has been introduced in every Congress since 2009, would reaffirm the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for Indian Tribes, and for other purposes. The legislation further removes the uncertainty and ambiguities inherent within the Carcieri v. Salazar opinion.

In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that long-established precedent in Carcieri v. Salazar. In addition to generating expensive litigation for certain tribes, the Carcieri decision caused uncertainty and unequal treatment among federally recognized tribes, operating on existing tribal trust lands.

In 2019, the amended legislation advanced out of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time on a bipartisan vote and did so again in 2021. However, in both years, it died in the Senate.

Monday’s legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT). In the House, the legislation was introduced by Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK-04), a tribal citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN-04).

“More than a decade ago, the Supreme Court issued an opinion that jeopardized ownership of tribal trust lands, questioned the authority of the Secretary of Interior and reversed 75 years of precedent,” Cole, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, said in a statement. “I am proud to reintroduce this important legislation to keep the promises made to tribes, respect their sovereign status and validate the status of tribal lands acquired in trust by the Secretary of Interior. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this bill in both chambers and get it to the president’s desk.”

Tester, who serves on the Senate Committee for Indian Affairs, sees the legislation as a means to further economic development in Indian Country.

“It’s critically important to ensure all tribes have equal access to economic development opportunities,” Tester said in a statement. “That’s why my bipartisan bill would overturn the Supreme Court’s disastrous Carcieri decision, which created two classes of tribes, and would allow all tribes to take land into trust moving forward. This bill is a strong step toward fulfilling the federal government’s treaty and trust responsibilities, and I’ll take on anyone to get it done for Indian Country.”

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