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Tribes Face Scrutiny Over Land Decisions

24 November 2005

SACRAMENTO, California – As reported by the San Diego Union Tribune: "Over the past year, both the Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations have started to take a harder line on high-stakes Indian land decisions, which carry broad, long-term implications for tribes and adjoining communities.

"Tribes empowered by steady and growing revenue from gambling have made no secret of their desire to reclaim some of the lands taken from them generations ago. Many, including several in San Diego County, already are making large, multimillion-dollar acquisitions.

"But it is when tribes seek to take new lands under their governmental control – by having them placed into federal trust status – that the public-policy considerations become much more complex.

"Indian lands held in trust are for the most part beyond the reach of state and local governments. They are exempt from state and local taxes and land-use controls. Trust lands also can be used for gambling in most cases.

"…The underlying prospect of gambling expansion and growing angst over off-reservation casino proposals appear to be driving the heightened scrutiny of efforts to expand Indian lands.

"'The general posture of (Interior Secretary Gale) Norton at the moment is one of hesitancy, to say the least, about the issue of land acquisition, and what's driving that is Indian gaming,' said Steven Light, co-director of the Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law and Policy at the University of North Dakota.

"…In Washington, leaders of the National Indian Gaming Association said political leaders who believe they are responding to public anxiety about tribal gaming are operating from a false premise…"

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