The Obama administration has approved 541 land trust applications for Native American tribes and of those, three were for gaming, an administration official said Thursday.
Larry Echo Hawk, Department of Interior assistant secretary, said the majority of the land placed in federal trust was for tribes who used the land for quality-of-life purposes.
Of the 541 applications, 89 were for housing, 191 for agricultural purposes, 47 for economic development, 211 for cemeteries, courts, recreation, health care, child care, education and law enforcement facilities and three for gaming, said Echo Hawk, who oversees Indian Affairs. Those applications were approved from October 1, 2009 through Sept. 11, 2011
"This is not gaming," Echo Hawk told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee after ticking off the numbers.
Placing land into federal trust _ meaning the federal government holds title but the land is set aside for the benefit of the tribe _ has become more difficult for tribes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the Interior Secretary lacks authority to do so for tribes not under federal jurisdiction in 1934, when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed.
Many tribes are urging Congress to restore that authority, but efforts have been hindered by concerns about land outside of reservations being put into trust for gaming.
Other witnesses in the hearing said the Supreme Court's ruling has stymied investment in tribal projects that provide jobs for Native Americans and people in communities near tribal reservations. In addition, tribes are spending a lot of time and resources researching documents to establish they were under federal jurisdiction in 1934, witnesses said.
"The federal government already puts burdens on tribal land. The (Supreme Court) decision just adds to those burdens by making it hard for tribes to manage and grow their sovereign territory," Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said in written testimony. Cole is Chickasaw.