May 17, 2012

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Examines the Federal Trust Responsibility

Washington D.C. –
U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, held an oversight hearing on Fulfilling the Federal Trust Responsibility: The Foundation of the Government-to-Government Relationship, yesterday. At the hearing, witnesses testified on the Federal trust relationship between Indian tribes and the Federal government, how the trust responsibility has been altered over time, and the status of the trust relationship.  
“The trust relationship that exists between the Federal government and Indian tribes goes back to the very first days of this Country. All branches of the government – Congress, the Administration, and the Courts – acknowledge the uniqueness of the Federal trust relationship. It is a relationship that has its origins in international law, colonial and U.S. treaties, agreements, Federal statutes, and Federal legal decisions,” said Chairman Akaka.
“The trust relationship carries with it legal, moral, and fiduciary obligations that are incumbent upon the Federal government to uphold. When the trust responsibility is acknowledged and upheld by the Federal government, a true government-to-government relationship can exist and thrive. When the trust responsibility is not upheld, tribal sovereignty is eroded and undermined,” said Akaka.
“Perhaps the most disruptive case in modern Federal Indian law is Carcieri v. Salazar, in which the Supreme Court held that the Department of Interior cannot take land into trust for Indian tribes not ‘under Federal supervision’ in 1934 (the year the Indian Reorganization Act was passed),” said Matthew L. M. Fletcher, Professor of Law and Director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University. “Passing a Carcieri fix, would show the Supreme Court that Congress is serious about their Federal trust relationship with tribes.”
“Fixing Carcieri would significantly enhance prospects for economic development and self-determination and would cost taxpayers nothing,” added Dan Rey Bear, a Partner at the Nordhaus Law Firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Akaka also announced during the hearing that the Committee Report to accompany S. 676, to reaffirm the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for the Indian tribes, was filed today. The report presents a strong case for the need to pass so-called Carcieri-fix legislation before the end of the current Congress.
Contact: Emily Deimel
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